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Jewish Journal

Exodus of Family Hits a Low Note

by David Finnigan

September 8, 2005 | 8:00 pm

Priceless negatives of musical icons taken by jazz photographer Herman Leonard may have been saved.

Priceless negatives of musical icons taken by jazz photographer Herman Leonard may have been saved.

Earlier this summer, Shana Leonard gave up her Fairfax District apartment to move to New Orleans and be near her 82-year-old father, legendary jazz photographer Herman Leonard. But late last month, the 33-year-old single mother, who also cares for her wheelchair-bound 10-year-old daughter, India, found the three of them among the thousands racing to escape from New Orleans.

In the early hours of Aug. 27, the Leonard family became part of the Crescent City's massive, pre-Hurricane Katrina automotive exodus. Unable to fit everything into their minivan, the family left behind India's expensive medical equipment. It was soon engufled by the overflowing Lake Pontchartrain.

Also flooded was the first-floor photo studio of Herman Leonard, whose seminal black-and-white photography captured 20th century jazz greats, such as singer Sarah Vaughan at Birdland in 1949 and Duke Ellington in the Paris of 1958.

"We had to get out so fast that we couldn't take everything," Herman Leonard said.

He believes that all of his photo equipment is ruined. But the news is better regarding the priceless photographic negatives of such musical icons as Miles Davis becoming one with his trumpet and a young Tony Bennett cradling a microphone.

"We got those out," said Leonard who was able to store them in a fifth-floor vault of a New Orleans office building, where he hopes they are high, dry and undisturbed.

After leaving the New Orleans area, the family spent three days in Houston, and then came to Los Angeles, where the Leonard family and Shana's boyfriend stayed this week with friends in Studio City.

The Leonard family has been adopted by members of Rancho Park's Reform synagogue, Temple Isaiah, where funds are being raised to care for India, who suffers from cerebral palsy and also microcephaly, a condition in which the brain grows improperly. India neither walks nor talks, her mother Shana said.

India's equipment includes a special bathtub seat and a prone stander to align her spine. They would cost at least $10,000 combined to replace. The equipment's paperwork, including key serial numbers needed for obtaining replacements, were still apparently underwater early this week, Shana Leonard said.

"The family needs a place to live, and India needs her medical equipment replaced," said Temple Isaiah member Jo Winett

Shana Leonard spent part of this week trying to get a hearing aid for her father. The disruption in their lives has been "pretty devastating to me," she said.

"But I think it's harder on my father," she added. "He lost all his prints, his darkroom, everything was on the first floor. The negatives are safe, but who knows when we'll be able to get to them?"

Herman Leonard's three-story home is a block-and-a-half from Lake Pontchartrain and was directly in the floodwaters' path.

He is not sure he wants to train his photographer's eye on the current state of New Orleans. "I don't know that I really want to record that," he said. "I'm gonna stay here. That's the primary concern. We're just waiting it out."

Longtime musical friends have been checking in to see how he's holding up. "Quincy Jones, a very close friend of mine, called," Leonard said.

Leonard went online and was able to track down satellite images of his home, much of it now submerged.

"I know it's my house," he said. "I know it's my roof."

Those wishing to aid can send funds to Leonard Family Help Fund, Care of Jo Winett, 10716 Esther Ave., Los Angeles, CA, 90064. Or donate online via PayPal: leonardfamilyhelpfund@verizon.net.

 

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