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William Gottlieb’s Beautiful Vintage Photographs of Jazz Legends, from Billie Holiday to Louis Armstrong

Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gilespie, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, and Mister, Billie Holiday’s dog, too.

In the 1930s, a young reporter by the name of William Gottlieb set out to cover the boom of the jazz scene for the Washington Post, only to find the paper didn’t care to dispatch an official staff photographer. So Gottlieb, a self-taught photographer armed with his Speed Graphic and an ample supply of flashbulbs, took it upon himself to photograph the subjects of his interviews. Between 1938 and 1948, he documented the jazz scene in New York City and Washington, D.C., and created what eventually became some of history’s most iconic portraits of jazz greats. The Golden Age of Jazz gathers 219 of those, including Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan (who would have been 88 today), Billie Holiday, and Thelonious Monk, along with original text from the photographer contextualizing the images and their subjects.

On February 16, 2010, Gottlieb’s photographs entered the public domain and are now available online, courtesy of The Library of Congress, who also have rare footage of Gottlieb speaking about his photos.

Sarah Vaughan, Café Society (Downtown)(?), New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1946
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Thelonious Monk, Minton’s Playhouse, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb

Billie Holiday, Downbeat, New York, N.Y., ca. Feb. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb

Joe Thomas, Pied Piper, New York, N.Y., ca. Sept. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Ella Fitzgerald, New York, N.Y., ca. Nov. 1946
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Nina Simone performing, Town Hall, N.Y., 1959
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Lennie Tristano, New York, N.Y., ca. Aug. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Ernest Tubb, Carnegie Hall, New York, N.Y., Sept. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Charlie Ventura, William P. Gottlieb’s home (table tennis room), N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Henry Wells, Aquarium, New York, N.Y., ca. Jan. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Josh White and Mary Lou Williams, WMCA, New York, N.Y., ca. Oct. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Cootie Williams, New York, N.Y.(?), between 1938 and 1948
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Louis Armstrong, between 1938 and 1948
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Tex Beneke, ca. Jan. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Gracie Barry and Dick Stabile, New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Sy Synclair
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Joan Brooks and Duke Niles, New York, N.Y., ca. Apr. 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Vivien Garry, New York, N.Y., Dixon’s, ca. May 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Mary Lou Williams, New York, N.Y., ca. 1946
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Dizzy Gillespie, New York, N.Y., ca. May 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Buddy Rich, Arcadia Ballroom, New York, N.Y., ca. May 1947
Photograph by William Gottlieb
June Christy, 1947 or 1948
Photograph by William Gottlieb
Louis Jordan, between 1938 and 1948
Photograph by William Gottlieb
William P. Gottlieb, WINX, Washington, D.C., ca. 1940
Photograph by Delia Potofsky
Mister (Billie Holiday’s dog), New York, N.Y., between 1946 and 1948
Photograph by William Gottlieb

At once a time-capsule of cultural history and a stunning treasure chest of visual micro-narratives, The Golden Age of Jazz is a fine addition to other rare glimpses of the jazz scene at its peak, including W. Eugene Smith’s Jazz Loft Project and Herman Leonard’s photos of jazz icons.


Published March 27, 2012

https://www.brainpickings.org/2012/03/27/william-gottliebs-iconic-photos-of-jazz-greats-1938-1948/

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