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April 27, 2006

Jazz Photographer William P. Gottlieb Dies

Written by
cindy mcleod

jazz news

Jazz Photographer William P. Gottlieb Dies at 89

The great jazz photographers and journalist William P. Gottlieb, has died at the age of 89 earlier this week in Great Neck, N.Y. Gottlieb died of complications from a stroke.

Gottlieb archived a golden era of music from 1938 to 1948, when he was a jazz writer for the Washington Post and for Down Beat magazine, but it was his photographic works that gained him his reputation. His black-and-white photographs of jazz musicians including vocalist Billie Holiday, saxophonist Charlie Parker and guitarist Django Reinhardt, as well as his 1948 image of 52nd Street in New York City have been reproduced countless times.

The U.S. Postal Service used his portraits of Holiday, Parker, Mildred Bailey and Jimmy Rushing for a 1994 series of stamps commemorating jazz performers. His book of 200 photographs, “The Golden Age of Jazz” is a bestseller among jazz fans and is now in its 11th printing. The Library of Congress purchased his archive of 1,700 photographs in 1995.

Gottlieb was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on Feb. 28, 1917, and grew up in New Jersey. He studied economics at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pa. and during these years he began his journalism career as a columnist and editor in chief of the monthly campus magazine, running jazz reviews and features.

In 1938, he was hired at the Washington Post as an advertising salesman, but soon was writing a jazz column for the paper’s Sunday editions. He felt jazz was also a visual medium, and purchased a Speed Graphic camera, film and flashbulbs, doing his shoots in the jazz clubs on 52nd Street and at the clubs in Washington, D.C. He became a leading photographer in jazz, joining names like Herman Leonard, William Claxton and Francis Wolff.

Gottlieb left the Post in 1941, serving in the Army Air Forces during World War II when he was stationed stateside as a photography officer.

After the war, he went back to jazz journalism at Down Beat magazine, taking photographs on the side. He left Down Beat near the end of the 1940s and worked in a variety of areas until his 1979 retirement, including owning a company that created filmstrips for educational and institutional corporations such as Encyclopaedia Britannica Films, Oxford University Press and McGraw Hill. He also wrote children’s books, including “Laddie and the Little Rabbit ” (1952) and “Laddie, the Superdog.” (1954).

In 1997, he was given a lifetime achievement award by Down Beat magazine.

He is survived by his wife of 66 years, Delia; four children, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Riverside-Nassau North Chapels, 55 North Station Plaza, Great Neck, N.Y.

Donations in Gottlieb’s name may be made to the Jazz Musician Emergency Fund by sending e-mail to pledge@jazzfoundation.org.

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