French veteran photographer Jean-Pierre Leloir was one of the best, if not the best jazz photographer. His work appeared on thousands of record-sleeves, in hundreds of books, and is, untill this day, a guideline for many music-photographers.
"I loved the people I photographed, so I made myself as available,
yet as discrete as possible," he said. "I never wanted to be a
paparazzi. I wanted them to forget my presence so I could catch those little
Leloir was decorated by the city of New Orleans for his jazz collection. Jean-Pierre was a friend of Herman Leonard. They met and cooperated in their respective countries. Jean-Pierre was made Chevalier de L'Ordre Des Arts et des Lettres and used the occasion to lecture the French minister of culture Frédéric Mitterrand about the rights of photographers in the digital age.
Born in Paris in 1931, Leloir was passionate about music from his early
teens and started taking pictures as a 20-year-old. For publications like Jazz
Magazine, L'Express and Le Nouvel Observateur, he photographed many of the jazz
musicians who visited Paris or made the French capital their home in the 1950s
and '60s, including Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, Sydney Bechet, Art Blakey,
Donald Byrd, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald,
Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus and Lester Young.
He also documented the golden age of chanson and the "yéyé"
era and shot memorable studio and concert photographs of Edith Piaf, Johnny
Hallyday, and Yves Montand, among many others. He seemed to have a special
empathy with visiting blues, rock and soul musicians from the US and the UK and
photographed the likes of Bob Dylan, Aretha Franklin, John Lee Hooker, Led
Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and Frank Zappa (Leloir's striking black and white
portrait of the guitarist in 1976 is included in the Best of Zappa compilation
Strictly Commercial). He also covered the Isle of Wight festival in 1969 and
the Orange rock festival, a landmark event in France, in 1975.
The mustachioed Leloir smoked a pipe and had the phlegmatic demeanour of
a British gentleman. He knew how to put his subjects at ease in the more formal
environment of a studio, playing Vivaldi in the background to help them relax. "His
moustache is so fascinating that you end up staring at it and forgetting all
about the camera," Belgian singer Jacques Brel said of the photographer,
who became a lifelong friend and took most of the pictures that adorned the
covers of his records. The many books of Leloir's work include Brel Par Leloir
(2008), Johnny Sixties, a collection of his Hallyday photos (2009), Instants De
Grâce, Portraits de Jazz and Ella.
In the mid-1990s, Leloir lost the use of his right eye, which restricted
his opportunities. Leloir mused about a life
that had been full of such coincidences.
Jean-Pierre Leloir, photographer: born Paris 27 June 1931; died Paris 20 December 2010.