About Lenny Bernstein

was born in Brooklyn in 1925 and raised in the Bronx. During World War II, I served in the infantry division as a ranger/scout in Europe. After the war, I continued my education, earning degrees in ceramic and metallurgical engineering from Alfred and Columbia Universities under the GI bill.

Growing up in New York and working as an engineer in California, I was exposed to the most innovative and creative jazz on both coasts. My career demanded a great deal of cross-country traveling, during which I was able to hear jazz artists in clubs, concerts, and festivals across the country. I became personal friends with many leading jazz musicians.

Part of my work as an engineer included optical and electron photomicrography. This experience helped me become comfortable shooting photos in a variety of difficult situations, which extended to capturing some of my favorite players in performance in dark nightclubs and bars.

I finally settled, with my family, in the Bay Area in Northern California, and Photo of Lenny Bernsteinwhile getting my law degree at Golden Gate University in San Francisco, I spent a great deal of time at Yoshi's in Oakland, Keystone Korner and the Both/And in San Francisco, and Kuumbwa Jazz in Santa Cruz, along with the Monterey Jazz Festival and other clubs and concerts. In these settings, I photographed more than 1,000 jazz musicians in more than 30,000 photographs. What you see here is only a small selection from my archives. There is more to come.”

About the Photography

n Lenny Bernstein's work, you won't find artful black-and-white compositions conjuring up nostalgia for a bygone jazz era. He does not romanticize jazz. Rather, what he does is capture and amplify the dynamic moment of music-making. His photos show the player deeply inside the music, and the music deeply inside the player. The two elements exist inseparably in his images.

In these photos, the music and the player are still moving in time. Here you don't see etched shadows of black and white: you enter vivid color. And you don't see an isolated portrait of a musician in the footlights: you experience the musician in the multi-hued act of creation and communication. That act of jazz music-making as revealed here is both personal and communal, involving both private reverie and collective inspiration.

You might say that Lenny Bernstein's photography arises first of all from his experience of what jazz musicians invariably refer to simply as “the music.” He doesn't seek to freeze the music or the musician — he allows the music and its players to generate the image. Look: and listen again.


Exhibitions and Publications

enny Bernstein's photographs are permanently exhibited at California State University, Monterey Bay. They have been shown at Yoshi's Jazz Club, Oakland; the Eloise Pickard Smith Gallery at the University of California, Santa Cruz; Kuumbwa Jazz Center, Santa Cruz; and the Art Museum of Santa Cruz County. The Brooklyn Academy of Music, the Monterey Jazz Festival, and others have licensed Mr. Bernstein's photographs for use, including such publications as Art Forum, The Atlantic, The Economist, Forbes, Gourmet, Harper's, House Beautiful, Interview, New York Magazine, the New York Times, Saveur, and Vanity Fair.