A Jazz Memoir
Sep 14 2020 – Mar 31 2021


In support of the Breman Museum’s mission to “Connect people to Jewish history, culture, and arts,” the newest exhibition, A Jazz Memoir: Photography by Herb Snitzer features photography documenting America’s jazz scene, focusing on the 1957–1964, of his over fifty-year career. For most of that time, Herb was the photography editor for Metronome, the primary magazine devoted to Jazz. Images of Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Count Basie and many others are showcased in the exhibit. Additional works reveal his desire to use photography to effect social change and his belief that “Injustice for one is injustice for all.” A Jazz Memoir also speaks to the links that connect Jews, Jazz and the African American community.

Artist Bio

Herb Snitzer considers himself a visual historian and artist, using photography to capture and comment on the world around him. His parents were Jewish immigrants who fled the pogroms of Ukraine, both settled in Philadelphia, where Herb was born in 1932. Herb’s father ran a small neighborhood grocery store and the family lived above it.  A good student, Herb qualified for Central High School, a prestigious public institution.

After graduation, and against the wishes of his parents, Herb pursued art. In his junior year of college, he was drafted and served (survived) two years in the Army before an honorable discharge.  Snitzer returned home and finished his photography studies at the Philadelphia College of Art.

With his degree in hand, Herb left for New York City to make his mark on the world. He resided on the multi-cultural West Side of Manhattan. He took to the streets to document his new world and found work as an assistant to well know photographers including Arnold Newman, as he also pursued freelance work. One job that would alter the arc of his career was to photograph jazz musician, Lester Young at the Five Spot Café in the fall of 1958. This job for Metronome Magazine opened Herb’s eyes to the world of Jazz and he would soon obtain a permanent position as photo editor until the demise of the publication in 1961. This job gave him access to some of the greatest jazz musicians of the time who played small clubs in New York. These intimate portraits brought him success both professionally and personally. He recounted: “I was drawn to the music, as I was drawn to my art, initially by the spirit and joy I felt every time I heard jazz. This multifaceted and highly original music lifted my soul and spoke to my heart.”

After Metronome, Herb continued his freelance career when an assignment to photograph the Summerhill School in Leiston Suffolk, England changed the trajectory of his life. This school founded by A.S. Neill, allowed children to learn in a democratic setting with no tests, grades, or set schedules. Published in 1964, Snitzer’s book, Summerhill, A Lovely World, captured how idyllic this school was. Enamored with the organic way of shaping future generations, he went on to co-found his own school in the New York Adirondacks, the Lewis-Wadhams School. He served as its headmaster for 13 years. Yet photography was always there; the artist in him could not be silenced.

In 1986, he reconnected with singer Nina Simone, who had been a subject of many images and a close friend from those early New York days. She invited him to Bern, Switzerland, to photograph her concerts there. After meeting Snitzer, Hans Zurbrugg, organizer of the Bern Jazz Festival, hired Herb to photograph the festival for three years, 1987-89. This reawakening to the jazz world allowed Herb to reconnect with many old friends and revisit a subject that had been so crucial to his early career. Snitzer explains, “Jazz is more than wonderful music. It’s a statement about people’s desire and thirst for freedom, and with freedom the sweetness of individuality and sense of self-worth.”

Snitzer’s move in 1992 to St. Petersburg, FL, offered him another opening to engage in community activism. His Jewish heritage, involvement with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and an exploration of Quakerism gave him opportunities to photograph diverse people attending demonstrations and protests. He has documented annual Gay Pride celebrations, the 2017’s Women’s March, and the 1996 protests for Tyron Lewis, an 18 year old unarmed African American killed by St. Petersburg police after a traffic stop. The later years of Herb’s life have also afforded him the ability to utilize his early work with mixed media to create collages. This work weaves his lifelong passions into a new artistic expression.

We are closed for Rosh Hashanah today. You can purchase tickets for an upcoming day when we are open by clicking the button on the right.