Jazz Memories – Photos from Herman Leonard

Jazz Memories
Music of the Jazz Masters
Photographs from Herman Leonard

(Universal Music – 2001)
by Dick Bogle

This glorious package is a total immersion into 20 years of the golden age of jazz between 1947 and 1967 with the music, magnificent photographs and insightful commentary about the musicians.

Each of the 31 artists recorded here, all living and working at the same time, have become legends. They include Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Stitt, all of whom helped lift jazz to unprecedented international popularity.

Each of the 31 tracks has two corresponding pages in the accompanying 8″ x 10″ soft cover book filled with photographer Herman Leonard’s stunning black and white portraits and text written by Ross Firestone. Firestone, the author of “Swing, Swing, Swing; “The Life and Times of Benny Goodman, provides insight into the life and times of each leader. He recalls the strife filled session at which Charlie Parker recorded “The Song Is You.” Parker had several spats with pianist Hank Jones. He also argued with producer Norman Granz, finally demanding Granz leave the studio.

The recording was flawless with Parker leaping on the melody on the first beat, then executing one of his peerless improvisations. Jones, anger set aside, delivered one of his typically superb solos.

Each track is an outstanding and sometimes classic performance. However, it doesn’t mean we hear material which has become almost old hat. For example, the great tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins does not play “Body and Soul,” the song he helped make famous. Instead, we hear a dulcet toned Stan Getz take on that chestnut in grand style. Hawkins is heard, surprisingly, first on piano and secondly on his familiar tenor with just drummer Shelly Manne on “Me And Some Drums,” a truly virtuoso Hawkins horn solo.

The notes alongside Hawkins’ picture state the session began early in the evening with tenor and three rhythm, a standard format. Pianist Hank Jones and bassist George Duvivier had engagements the next morning and called it quits around 3:am. But Hawkins and Manne felt like playing some more, and the result is a treat

Leonard’s photographs have become collectors’ items because each print captures the spirit and emotion of the moment. A young Sarah Vaughan is caught singing, mouth open wide, and with a joy radiating from her face. The photo depicting the very slender Vaughan, is in stark contrast with the more often viewed photos taken in later years. There is a glamorous Billie Holiday, looking untouched by the ravages of drugs to come later in life. Leonard’s camera catches a close up of Ella Fitzgerald, a rivulet of sweat running down the side of her face, culminating in one large drop about to fall.

Opportunities for comparison abound. The listener can compare the piano styles of Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum, Duke Ellington, Lennie Tristano, all of whom lead groups. In addition, there are piano sidemen such as Richie Powell, Wynton Kelly, Ellis Larkins, Sonny Clark and Teddy Wilson.

The cross section of tenorists makes for awesome listening. Broad shouldered Ben Webster strikes an imposing photograpic presence, dressed in a stylish suit with feet spread, saxophone in one hand, cigarette in the other standing in a door frame with a very serious facial expression. Known for never running from a fight and bearing the nickname “Brute,” his gentle and sweet tenor treatment of “Time On My Hands” belies all of the above.

Other nuggets: Roy Eldridge, trumpet playing “The Man I Love” backed by Oscar Peterson, organ; Sonny Rollins, “St. Thomas; Duke Ellington, solo piano, “Lotus Blossom; Sonny Stitt, “If I Had You.”

This collection is worthy of belonging to the very hip or to an eager novice.