Gorgeous Vintage Photos Of The Legends Of Jazz


Photo: Flickr via The Library of Congress

The iconography of jazz, with its dark rooms and cigarette smoke clouds, would not be the same without jazz photography. And jazz photography would not be the same without William P. Gottlieb, who documented the jazz scene in New York and Washington, D.C., from from 1938 to 1948.His book The Golden Age of Jazz collects 219 of the primarily black-and-white photographs he took during that decade, but there are so many more. The Library of Congress has just released all 1,600 of them for public consumption on Flickr, and what a treat they are.

We’ve chosen 15 of our favourites—a hard task—but recommend you scroll through the Flickr page to get a sense of them yourself. You can also find interviews with Gottlieb about his work on The Library of Congress website.

Gottlieb’s photographs, like the paintings of Caravaggio, vividly capture the dramatic darks and lights of their environment.

Geoff Dyer, author of the jazz book But Beautiful, wrote: “The best jazz photographs are those saturated in the sound of their subject.” If that is true, then Gottlieb, who died in 2006 at the age of 89, took some of the best jazz photographs there are.

Nat King Cole, New York, N.Y., ca. June 1947

Sidney Bechet, Freddie Moore, and Lloyd Phillips, Jimmy Ryan's (Club), New York, N.Y., ca. June 1947

Louis Jordan, Paramount theatre(?), New York, N.Y., ca. July 1946

Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Cecil Payne, Ray Brown, and Miles Davis, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948

Sarah Vaughan, Café Society (Downtown), New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1946

Howard McGhee, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947

James P. (James Price) Johnson, New York, N.Y.(?), ca. May 1946

Rex William Stewart, Aquarium, New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1946

Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt (Milton) Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947

Portrait of Red Norvo, New York, N.Y.(?), ca. Feb. 1947

Stuff Smith, Kelly's Stable, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1946

Shelly Manne, Bob Cooper, Art Pepper, and Bob Gioga, 1947 or 1948

Carl Kress, New York, N.Y., ca. June 1947

Thelonious Monk, Minton's Playhouse, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947

52nd Street, New York, N.Y., ca. July 1948

Now check out the work of a more recent artist

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