© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Here’s the last of our promised blog features on Downbeat’s 2017 gifts-of-the-season recommendations.
“Photographer Jean-Pierre Leloir (1931-2010) got his first camera from a U.S. soldier the day that Paris was liberated from Nazi occupation. That act had profound consequences for the rest of Leloir's life. He would go on to make photography his profession, first publishing his work in Jazz Hot magazine in 1951. Some of Leloir's best-known images are of French singers, such as his celebrated portrait of Georges Brassens, Leo Ferre and Jacques Brel smoking and chatting around a table.
He also captured images of rock stars, but he held jazz musicians in high esteem throughout his life. In a moment of sweet irony, when the French government made him Chevalier de L'Ordre Des Arts et des Lettres in 2010, it similarly recognized bassist Ron Carter, one of his photographic subjects, in the same ceremony.
Two jazz enthusiasts in Spain have compiled Jazz Images (Elemental Music Records; available from Amazon), a 168-page coffee-table book of Leloir's color and black-and-white photos. Gerardo Canellas runs jazz clubs in Palma de Mallorca, Spain, and Buenos Aires, Argentina; Jordi Soley has collected, sold and distributed jazz records since 1980. Canellas and Soley's objective when choosing images for the book was to favor photographs of spontaneous moments that took place offstage. The result is a collection that nicely balances iconic images with intimate ones.
Among the artists depicted are Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd, Nina Simon, Thelonious Monk and Sarah Vaughan. Most of the book is devoted to photos, but there is also a preface by Ashley Kahn and brief essays by three musicians whom Leloir photographed — Quincy Jones, Michel Legrand and Martial Solal.
In his essay, Quincy Jones celebrates the power of photography to preserve and recall history. He writes, "We need to get back to our roots and remember where we came from. I am so happy to see Leloir's work published, because behind each image is a story — one that needs to be told and appreciated."
One photo of Count Basie sitting at a makeshift desk says volumes about the transience and hard work of a bandleader's life. A double image of Donald Byrd reading a newspaper on a bench with a neon-lit club behind him captures the tenuousness of a life spent creating after dark.
In his piece, Martial Solal articulates the mixture of competence and respect that enabled the photographer to gain his subjects' trust: "During that period, Leloir was one of the very few photographers interested in the musicians, and he was certainly the only one who knew us by name. His manners and behavior always seemed very professional, highly precise and meticulous, and it was apparent that he loved what he was doing and admired his chosen models."
This admiration is powerfully conveyed in Leloir's photos of John Coltrane. Some depict the smartly attired saxophonist gazing to one side, dignified and pondering. Another from the same session captures him looking intently at his horn's mouthpiece. Another sequence finds the notoriously workaholic Coltrane rehearsing in his hotel room. And in one rare image the saxophonist gives a wide-open grin, showing the teeth that never made it into official portraits. No matter how many Coltrane albums you own, you're bound to come away from that photo feeling like you've learned something new about him. Now that's art.”