Photos from a Magical Period

SoCal exhibition keeps alive the legacy of great mid-century photographer Jerry Stoll
Jerry Stoll photography
The classic mid-century jazz photography of the great Jerry Stoll, including this one with Louis Armstrong and Carmen McRae, are part of a new exhibit of the photographer’s work. All photos: courtesy Casey Stoll
Jerry Stoll photography
Photographer Jerry Stoll: chronicler of history.
Jerry Stoll photography
Nina Simone by Jerry Stoll.

They may not be as famous as the jazz men and women whom they followed and photographed, but the top jazz photographers of the mid-century—Herman Leonard, William Gottlieb, William Claxton, Carole Reiff—are major artists in their own right—and chroniclers of history.

One of the greatest, Jerry Stoll, who made his mark in Northern California as the official photographer of the Monterey Jazz Festival from 1958 through the mid-1960s, is undergoing a bit of a Renaissance these days, more than a decade after he passed, due in part to the efforts of his son, Casey Stoll.

A grouping of Jerry Stoll's finest jazz photographs has recently been acquired by and installed in a community center in the Leimert Park section of Los Angeles. It's not the Metropolitan Museum, or even LACMA—but Jerry would have approved.

The son of poor farmers, a trained philosopher and historian, a member of the Communist Party until Stalin invaded Hungary, Stoll was a man who cared about people who were poor, who were minorities, who needed help.

The Fernando Pullum Community Arts Center, where the photos will remain as long as the center wants them, Casey says, is in a middle-class African-American section of the city. The idea was to have the photos inspire young music students who study there and perform there.

On display are photos of the greats—from Louis Armstrong to Dexter Gordon, Carmen McRae, and Nina Simone. These people were more than subject matter for Stoll. They were friends.

"The photographs are really iconic, and they were from a magical period, the jazz ones in particular," says Casey, one of eight children of Jerry and the one who manages his dad's archive. "You have so many great artists and they were so accessible, and he photographed them without any boundaries or walls. He was a part of them. It's very intimate. To him, jazz music was really important."

Stoll's photos can also be seen in San Francisco, where about two dozen of his North Beach and other city scenes are displayed throughout the 19th century Hotel Boheme, 444 Columbus Avenue, in the heart of North Beach. Folks interested in viewing the works are allowed to do so.