William Claxton, Lorraine Glover, wife of famous hardbop trumpet player Donald Byrd, 1960. Courtesy Demont Photo Management
Willam Claxton earned his reputation with his moody black and white portraits of leading jazzmen of the 1950s and 1960s such as Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker and by believing that photography was ‘jazz for the eye’. Often accompanying musicians during their tours, the American photographer captured them at work should it be a meditative Chet Baker whose face reflects in his piano or a powerful Dinah Washington confronting her mic. Yet what William Claxton succeeded in the most was in representing jazz musicians in other settings than their sweaty and frantic New York clubs; choosing outdoor sunny sceneries and laid-back outfits that gave an innovative freshness to their depictions. He often said he had succeeded in celebrity photography by promising not to portray his subjects in a negative way and by finding common tastes such as Steve Mc Queen’s passion for sports car. Should it be that trust that enabled him to capture an over made-up aging Gloria Swanson or the stress of an agitated Judy Garland: no negative portrayals but clearly harsh realities.