Herman Leonard’s “Jazz”

jazz“JAZZ, the definitive book of Herman Leonard’s photographs has just been published in the US and will be published next month in the UK. It will be the last, too, as Herman died in August. Sadly, he never saw the book. But at his request I wrote the introductory essay to what I think of as one of the foremost documents of Jazz by one of its greatest champions.”

Praise for “Jazz”

Although music itself can’t be photographed, no photographer ever got closer to pulling it off than Herman Leonard. And yet the publication of “Jazz,” Leonard’s remarkable book of photographs, is both reason to celebrate and to grieve: Many of the most iconic photographs in all of jazz – or of any music, for that matter – are collected in this lavish document of mostly the bebop era, the late 1940s and 1950s.

But the sad note here is that Leonard didn’t get to see the published book; he died in August at 87. With his passing, and the recent deaths of two other legendary jazz photographers – William Gottlieb, 89, in 2006 and William Claxton, 80, in 2008 – we’re unlikely to see another book of photographs that captures this chapter of this music with this scope of ambition. […] We can be grateful, though, that Herman Leonard was there to show us exactly what it felt like to step into a jazz club such as Birdland or the Roost. You can’t understand jazz without hearing it, and you can’t fully understand it without looking at Leonard’s “Jazz.”
David Rowell, Washington Post ( read full review)

Describing the animating force behind his photographs of jazz musicians, Herman Leonard once spoke of wanting to “make people see the way the music sounded”. And it is true that for many people Leonard’s pictures, in all their smoky, moody brilliance, are the defining pictorial representation of jazz.

Goethe described architecture as “frozen music”, but the description might equally apply to Leonard’s photographs; his highly stylised images of artists such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, Dexter Gordon and Lester Young performing in the jazz clubs of New York in the late Forties and early Fifties beseech, caress, seduce and inspire.

As his friend Quincy Jones once observed, Leonard achieved with his camera what the musicians who were his subjects did with their instruments – “tells the truth, and makes it swing”.
Mick Brown, Telegraph ( read full review)


Comrade Rockstar: Search for Dean Reed

Comrade RockstarDean Reed was an American and the biggest rock star in the history of the Soviet Union. He was so famous his icons were sold alongside those of Josef Stalin. Reggie Nadelson first saw him in 1986 on a TV chat show. Few people in the West had ever heard of him. Six weeks later Reed was found dead in a lake in East Berlin. Was he murdered by the CIA? The KGB? A jealous husband? Nobody knew.

Commissioned to write a film about him, she chased the mystery of his life and death across America and Eastern Europe, her own journey mirroring his. For a quarter of a century, from 1961 to 1986, Dean Reed, his guitar on his back, took the music with him. He played 32 countries: his albums went gold from Bulgaria to Berlin. The Russians gave him a Lenin Prize. He was their American.

Comrade Rockstar is not just the story of Dean Reed’s progress from Hollywood starlet to Cold War Cowboy, but an account of the search that took Reggie Nadelson from Denver to Berlin, and from Hawaii to Moscow. As she travelled, the Berlin Wall was breached and Dean Reed became an increasingly alluring figure, his life an unrepeatable tale from the Cold War. Encountering the characters who peopled Dean Reed’s world, she was caught in the seedy, sometimes moving, often hilarious subculture, of sex, politics and rock ‘n’ roll.

Praise for “Comrade Rockstar”

“Nadelson’s fascinating book is as much a study of life behind the Iron Curtain, and the significance that rock ‘n’ roll music held for the young pre-Glasnost generation, as it is a straightforward biography.”
Daily Mail

Journalist and thriller writer Nadelson tells the life story of Dean Reed, “the Johnny Cash of Communism,” and of her own investigation into Reed’s life, in a book that, while always fascinating, has trouble walking the line between memoir and biography. The details—of how Colorado-born Reed lived and sang in South America and the eastern bloc and became a star of Elvis-like proportions there—are relayed in a clear and often captivating manner. When the author opines on her personal journey to discover and understand Reed, the narrative is often awkward (“my metaphors collided and crashed: none of them any good”) and the findings are sometimes naïve (“In the end, the Soviets had not wanted to nuke us; they just wanted to listen to our music”). As “a kind of travel book through a now half-lost time and place”—the time being the ’60s, the place being the U.S.S.R.—the book is absorbing. And though there are speed bumps (weak images and an oversimplification of complex political events), as the mysteries of Reed’s suspicious death begin to unfold toward the end, the author’s strengths become apparent, making Reed all the more exciting.
Publishers Weekly

In a strange nexus of politics and pop culture that will never be repeated, Colorado native Reed, possessed of a fair voice, great looks, and a boatload of charisma, became the biggest rock star in the Soviet Union during the 1970s and ’80s, although practically no one in the U.S. knew who he was. Here Nadelson, author of the Artie Cohen mystery series, tracks Reed’s long, strange trip from all-American farm boy to Hollywood extra to South American political activist, and, finally, to Soviet Union pop and film star. Thousands of Russian kids, crazy for all things American, thronged to his concerts, while the authorities viewed him as the ideal propaganda tool, an American whose politics were identical with those of a Kremlin bureaucrat. His death, a few weeks after being featured in a 1986 60 Minutes segment that drew hate mail from the U.S., was ruled a suicide. Although Nadelson’s narrative meanders at times, this is a fascinating story of a man in search of fame who found it in the unlikeliest of places.
Joanne Wilkinson, From Booklist

Watch a clip from the documentary

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Tom Hanks to play Dean Reed

Tom Hanks production company “Playtone” has purchased the film rights to Comrade Rockstar and Hanks himself is set to play The Red Elvis, Dean Reed.
See BBC article here