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Let’s Swing! U.Va. Library Shows Portraits From The Golden Age Of Jazz

November 10, 2003 -- Shortly before World War II, a 22-year-old jazz enthusiast named William P. Gottlieb began photographing jazz musicians to illustrate columns he wrote for the Washington Post. A self-taught photographer, he took only two or three pictures per session to save money on flashbulbs and film.

Today his images rank among the most famous jazz photos ever taken, and a new exhibition at the University of Virginia Library, “Portraits from the Golden Age of Jazz: Photographs by William P. Gottlieb,” features 60 of his remarkable works. The exhibition, on display in the McGregor Room of Alderman Library, opens Friday, Nov. 14 and runs through March 5.

Gottlieb worked for the Washington Post, Down Beat magazine, and other publications from 1938 until the late 1940s, a time when the pioneers of New Orleans and Chicago jazz were still swinging and while a younger generation of beboppers was moving the music in new directions. Whether capturing the joyful exuberance of grinning trumpet legend Louis Armstrong in performance or the sophisticated elegance of bandleader Duke Ellington as he takes a break backstage, Gottlieb’s portraits evoke the personalities of the musicians as well as the essence of the era.

“I tried to capture a subject’s personality or inner qualities,” Gottlieb wrote. “I reached these elusive goals only occasionally, though sometimes very successfully, as with the shot of Billie Holiday that clearly shows the anguish in her voice.”

Considered the iconic images of jazz greats such as Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, Gottlieb’s photos were published widely in magazines, books, album covers, posters, and even on U.S. postage stamps.

In addition to the photographs, the U.Va. Library is displaying related items from the Harlem Renaissance drawn from Special Collections, including works by James Weldon Johnson
and Zora Neale Hurston and an original letter about Billie Holiday written by Langston Hughes. Also on display are original record album covers from the era, on loan from the University’s radio station 91.1 WTJU-FM and from a private collection.

“Portraits from the Golden Age of Jazz” is made possible by the Library of Congress, which acquired Gottlieb’s photographs through the Ira and Leonore Gershwin Fund. The exhibition’s tour is managed by Smith Kramer Fine Arts.

Exhibit hours are Monday through Thursday from 9 a.m. to 9p.m., and Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (closed Sunday). Call Special Collections at (434) 924-3025 for holiday hours or for more information.

An online version of the exhibition will be posted at

To download this release and images to go with your story:

Contact: Charlotte Morford, (434) 924-4254

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Contact the Office of University Relations at (434) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (434) 924-7550.

SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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