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Friday, November 14, 2014

William Gottlieb

William Gottlieb, a jazz artist with a camera.

Portrait of Frank Sinatra, 1940s, William
Gottlieb, probably his most famous photo.
Anyone who knows much about art, in seeing the name, Gottlieb, thinks first of Adolph Gottlieb, the Abstract Expressionist painter from the 1950s and 60s. Those who know much about photography or Jazz think, instead, of William Gottlieb. So far as I can tell, they're no relation, though both were New York City boys, Adolph Gottlieb being around twelve years older. Though Adolph did a little photography at one point in time, beyond their last names, they had little in common. It's doubtful they ever met. They moved in two entirely different circles. William Gottlieb, known today for his iconic black and white photos of just about every Jazz musician who ever walked the streets of New York, was also the Jazz writer for the Washington Post. Adolph Gottlieb mostly palled around with all the high-art, paint-splattered, misfits of the New York School.

Jazz, 1937 to 1947
Doris Day, 1946, William Gottlieb
Although Gottlieb has long been known for his photos of jazz musicians from the so-called "Golden Age of Jazz" (also the title of a book he wrote showcasing his "jazzy" friends, above, left), his work also covers much of the music world of the time, from 1937 when he first began writing for the Washington Post, up until his retirement some thirty years later. His most famous photo, his Portrait of Frank Sinatra (top, right), falls outside the realm of Jazz, as does his smiling photo of a very young Doris Day (above, right) from 1946, as she began her career with Les Brown during the Big Band era.

Iconic musicians and their iconic photos by Gottlieb.
William Gottlieb was born in Brooklyn in 1917, but grew up in Bound Brook, New Jersey, a southwestern suburb of New York City. His father was in the lumber business. In 1938, Gottlieb graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in economics. His interest in jazz dates from well before that though, as does his career as a journalist. He began writing a Jazz column for the Washington Post while still a senior in college. However the paper claimed they could not afford a photographer to follow him around to all the jazz clubs first in Washington, later in New York. So, Gottlieb bought himself a Speed Graphic press camera and taught himself how to use it. Then, armed with what must have been a rather bulky pocketful of flashbulbs, set out to shoot just about anybody who was anybody in the gaudy and glamorous world of uptown jazz. His formal and informal photos of trumpeter Louis Armstrong (above) and singer, Ella Fitzgerald (below), made his name and face as much a fixture in Harlem as in the Post press room.

In the beginning, there was Ella.
Sarah Vaughn, William Gottlieb
But it wasn't just the household names of Jazz who Gottlieb blinded with his high-powered flashbulbs. Besides Armstrong and Fitzgerald, his list of friends and photographic conquests include such greats as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday (bottom, left), Dizzy Gillespie, Earl Hines, Jo Stafford, Thelonious Monk, Stan Kenton, Ray McKinley, Benny Goodman (below, right), and Coleman Hawkins, some of whom his photos coupled with his popular column in the Post he made into household names. Today, we also recognize some of the lesser-known jazz artist from that era, names and faces such as Sarah Vaughn (left), Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway (bottom, right), and guitarist, Les Paul.

Benny Goodman, William Gottlieb
During WW II, Gottlieb was drafted into the Army Air Corps where he served as a photo officer. After the war, he settled in New York where he became a writer-photographer for the leading jazz periodical of the era, Down Beat magazine. At the same time, his words and photos often appeared in the Record Changer, the Saturday Review, and Collier's. In 1948, Gottlieb left the New York rat race to work for a filmstrip company called Educational Curriculum. Later he founded his own award-winning filmstrip company, which he eventually sold the McGraw-Hill, leaving him "set for life." In retirement, Gottlieb and his son, Steven, also a professional photographer, took up father-son amateur tennis, one year becoming the top ranked team on the east coast. Apparently tennis is a pretty healthy exercise. William Gottlieb died in 2006 at the ripe old age of eighty-nine.

Billie Holiday, 1947, William Gottlieb
Cab Calloway, 1947, William Gottlieb


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