Too marvelous for words
New Orleans, summertime, pre-Katrina, a crowded Italian restaurant, Maximo’s, and I’m sitting at the bar. The owner, Jason, is pouring Champagne, Krug, from magnums to a large table and topping off my glass and another fellow's whom he affectionately calls Herman. Just a couple of guys sitting at a bar, drinking Champagne, waiting for the night to develop. And in New Orleans, anything could happen. I notice Herman has a little point and shoot camera with him and we start talking about wine, jazz and shooting.
I immediately liked him, he reminded me of a gypsy-freelance photographer that I hung out with in the early 1970’s. But Herman had it together; he succeeded, he had that special vision.
That night, on a steamy New Orleans summer night, it was just the two of us, having a drink and talking about stuff. I knew his work, lived with it whenever I sat in the restaurant. They filled the place. Ella, Duke, Bird, Tony Bennett, Art Blakey, Miles, Dizzy, man I would stare at Lester Young’s hat and coke and cigarette and would swear that cigarette was still burning. Herman took a picture of Charlie Parker in the late 1940’s that was a technical masterpiece. Low light, hand held and detail to the micron. I would stare at Bird’s suit; it had a pattern that was mesmerizing. I loved, loved, loved his work.
Look, there are plenty of sites out there with information about Herman, much more comprehensive than mine. He was a friend of a friend, and we would share a glass of wine together from time to time, that was all. I used to stay at a hotel near his house before Katrina wrecked the neighborhood.
Reggie Nadelson wrote," When I got the news that he had died, I looked at his photographs on my wall and I recalled what Tony Bennett said when he heard Frank Sinatra was no longer with us: ‘I don’t have to believe that.’"
I loved how he took an art form, jazz, and made art from the folks who made the art. And he took us along with him on this historic journey of a uniquely American music form.
One night Herman was dining with Doc Cheatham when I walked into Maximo’s. Doc had a gig in New Orleans and was getting an early dinner (9 PM). Folks would come by and pay their respects to Doc, Herman was shooting, his young assistant by his side. Good times.
I’ve been lucky to know some great photographers in my life. I collect photography and shoot almost every day for the last 45 years, ever since I was a young kid. I have an old childhood bud in California who is a great collector, one of the top in the world, for photography. But my takeaway from Herman, and the treasured body of his life’s work, is that there’s seeing and there’s living. Herman saw, but Herman lived a wonderful American life.
Happy trails, Herman, thanks for sharing your passion, your work and your images with us on this pretty little planet we all call home.
The best is yet to come....