Not only was Herman Leonard a great artist; he seems to have led a great life. He left New York for Paris in 1960, traveled worldwide for European magazines in the '70s, then moved to the Mediterranean island of Ibiza with his family, living healthily and off the grid for more than a decade.
Leonard was forgotten by the time he re-entered society in the mid-1980s, but then something wonderful happened: He was rediscovered. Successful gallery shows, press profiles, more assignments, book deals, and, in the last few years, several lofty awards.
He settled in New Orleans in the early '90s, out of love not just for its history and music but also for its atmosphere and tolerance, and struck up an artist-dealer relationship with the local establishment A Gallery for Fine Photography (one of the finest photo art galleries in the country and still one of two places—besides Leonard's own Web site—where you can purchase hand-signed, museum-quality prints and portfolios of his works).
During Katrina, he lost thousands of prints, but his negatives were saved before the storm struck. After the disaster, he moved to Los Angeles, where he started up his studio again.
I met Herman Leonard only once, three years later, in the spring of 2008, at a gallery show in SoHo, his first New York exhibition in 20 years. He gave an hourlong slide show of his works, telling stories about the musicians he knew and photographed. He was wry and funny. He laughed a lot. He was clearly delighted to be lauded.
In his last couple of years, he went through all the negatives rescued from Katrina and found a few hundred shots that he'd forgotten about. He compiled the best of them, and laid them out alongside many of his well-known classics, for a new 320-page book, titled, simply, Jazz. It will be published in October. He lives on.
Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter