Free Thing of the Week: Photographs by William Gottlieb

Thelonious Monk, 1947. Photo by William Gottlieb.

Back in the groove with our Free Thing of the Week from the global Commons, we bring you this picture of jazz pioneer Thelonious Monk by one of the most renowned of all jazz photographers. William P. Gottlieb began writing about jazz for The Washington Post in 1938, but the Post decided they couldn’t afford a photographer for something as lowbrow as jazz. So Gottlieb went out and bought himself a Graflex and promptly became one of the true legends of the music.

Gottlieb was passionate about jazz and in fact quit his teaching job at the University of Maryland because of it. When Gottlieb approached them about teaching a class on jazz to the Terrapin students, the university refused because they were afraid the class would praise black people too much.

Yet despite his passion he walked away from jazz in 1948 to be with his family. Even though his wife told him he should dedicate his life to his obvious skill in photography, Gottlieb politely refused, and instead founded his own filmstrip company and wrote children’s books. He didn’t photograph another musician for the rest of his life.

When he died he asked the Library of Congress to put his 2,500+ photographs into the public domain. They remain some of the finest photographs of jazz or any other music.

The whole collection is available here.


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