The William Claxton Project

ABOUT THE ARTIST

william claxton bio web images jaz

Born in Pasadena, California, iconic phorographer William Claxton (1927-2008) is best known for his dozens of splendid portraits of jazz figures (especially those of Chet Baker, of whom he took the first professional photos) and Hollywood stars (such as his friend Steve McQueen). Claxton’s images graced the covers of countless records, and appeared in magazines such as Life, Paris Match and Vogue. Claxton wrote 13 books, held dozens of exhibitions of his photographs around the world, and won numerous photography awards. This collection presents perennial jazz recordings illustrated with superb images by the great photographer. Claxton was celebrated for his moody black-and-white portraits of leading jazzmen such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Art Pepper and Thelonious Monk. His photographs of musicians at work around the US in 1960, taken on a four-month journey accompanied by musicologist Joachim-Ernst Berendt, were collected in the book Jazzlife.

Claxton took the famous photograph of a brooding Chet Baker with his face reflected on the piano (below). His Baker portraits were collected in the book Young Chet, with a note from Claxton that photography is “jazz for the eye”.  Claxton’s photographs made striking album covers for Pacific Jazz Records, such as the shot of a seaborne Baker blowing his trumpet in the wind on the sleeve of the 1956 album, Chet Baker and Crew. Shooting LP covers was, wrote Claxton, a “simple and delightful experience” – and an intimate arrangement he preferred to the wrangling of executives and stylists that would accompany CD cover shoots in later years.

 

CLAXTON’S LEGENDARY JAZZ PHOTOGRAPHER IMMORTALIZED ON A UNIQUE 12 LP COLLECTION

The product of a musical household –his mother was a semi-professional singer and his father avidly collected big-band records– Claxton studied piano as a child, but he found he had no patience for learning to play. Instead he gravitated toward photography. When he was only 12, he regularly took the bus to downtown Los Angeles to attend jazz performances at the Orpheum Theatre, armed with his Brownie box camera and wearing his father’s suit to avoid questions about his age. His earliest subjects included jazz stars Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, the latter photographed during an impromptu breakfast-time shoot at the Claxton family’s La Cañada Flintridge home.

After graduating from the University of California with a degree in psychology, Claxton remained a habitué of local jazz venues. In 1952, while shooting Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker at the Haig Club, he met Richard Bock, founder of Pacific Jazz, who quickly hired him as art director and house photographer. During his time at the label, Claxton snapped and designed album covers at a rate of roughly one per week, in the process establishing the visual identity of the West Coast jazz movement. Where previous jazz photographers captured their subjects in the dark, smoky environs of nightclubs, Claxton capitalized on the sun and surf of Southern California, posing artists in unorthodox outdoor settings to represent a new era in the music’s continued evolution.

Claxton’s images graced the covers of countless records, and appeared in magazines such as Life, Paris Match and Vogue. Claxton wrote 13 books, held dozens of exhibitions of his photographs around the world, and won numerous photography awards. This collection presents perennial jazz recordings illustrated with superb images by the great photographer. The selection of more than 150 photographs here has been carefully selected from Claxton’s immense catalogue. Among the multiple artists portrayed are Louis Armstrong, Chet Baker, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Charlie Parker, Sonny Rollins, and Nina Simone.