French photographer Jean-Pierre Leloir (1931-2010) captured some of the most iconic images of jazz life in France during the 1950s and 1960s. 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.
“The day Paris was liberated”, wrote Yann Plougastel in Le Monde soon after Leloir’s death, “a GI gave him a photo camera and his life changed forever. He would soon discover jazz at 18 at the Carnot high school, listening to Sidney Bechet, Count Basie and Duke Ellington. In 1949, after a festival that reunited Charlie Parker and Miles Davis at Salle Pleyel, he decided to quit his studies and devote himself exclusively to photography. In May of 1951 he published his first image in the Jazz Hot magazine. It was a portrait of pianist Jef Gilson. It was the very first of hundreds to come…”
The mustachioed Leloir smoked a pipe and had the phlegmatic demeanour of a British gentleman. In January of 2010 he was made Chevalier de L’Ordre Des Arts et des Lettres: “It was a great honour, the cherry on a beautiful cake,” he said of the ceremony, where he met up with the American jazz double bassist Ron Carter, whom he had photographed several times, and who was also honoured that day. “That’s what I call the lottery of life,” Leloir mused about a life that had been full of such coincidences. Leloir died in Paris December 20, 2010 at the age of 79.