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Jazz Photos

June 2024
1min read


by William P. Gottlieb , Pomegranate, 162 pages .

William Gottlieb found the music that was to obsess him when he fell ill in 1936 and a college friend forced him to listen to jazz records during his recuperation: Two years later he secured a weekly jazz-column beat with the Washington Post , where Depression-era budgets forced him to serve as his own photographer. At the Post and later at Down Beat , Gottlieb worked as a jazz writer, but his wife saw his greater talent in his accompanying pictures. The thousands he took for free from the late thirties to the late forties created some of jazz’s iconic images. Even if you don’t know his Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushing, or Charlie Parker photographs, you’ve seen the postage stamps they modeled for; his portrait of Fifty-second Street on a rain-slicked night in its prime—fading magically from the 3 Deuces club to The Famous Door—became the blueprint for Clint Eastwood’s movie sets in Bird . Gottlieb’s entire collection of fifteen hundred photographs was bought last year by the Library of Congress, to be consecrated as the national treasure it is.

This book of more than two hundred of Gottlieb’s golden-age photographs, enlarged and with richer duotone prints than its first 1979 edition, opens with a close-up of Louis Armstrong in mid-note and closes with the trumpeter Howard McGhee playing before a handsome, enraptured young man. When he dug out that picture thirty years after taking it, Gottlieb looked at it again, and “I suddenly recognized ‘the kid.’ It was Miles Davis.” For an exhilarating decade, casual encounters with greatness were William Gottlieb’s bread and butter.

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