Correspondence: On William Claxton

William Claxton’s cover shots appeared on ten CDs produced in Los Angeles by Dick Bank. The photographer’s last project for Bank was the cover photograph for the 2006 Andy Martin-Jan Lundgren album How About You? (Fresh Sound). 

Bank sent this note following Claxton’s death last weekend.

I had the idea for the cover to be a trombone (for Andy Martin) resting on top of the piano (for Jan Lundgren). It necessitated Clax getting up on a tall ladder to shoot it. I asked if it

How About You.jpg

wouldn’t be safer if it was shot with him standing on a box. He said, no, it had to be shot elevated to do it right. I was concerned about him climbing up on that ladder–something he had done hundreds of times–in his present state of health. He didn’t hesitate. I held onto the ladder and was ready just in case. He could have done it with his eyes closed. The result was exactly what I envisioned–no, better!–and lighted as only Bill Claxton could do it.

I had called him on his birthday last year as I always do, and told him we would be doing an album of Ralph Rainger music right after New Year’s, with Jan Lundgren, Chuck Berghofer and Joe La Barbera. Before I could say, “I hope you’ll be able to join us,” he said he would love to be there and would it be all right to drop by. Can you imagine: Bill Claxton asking me if it would be OK to be there? I called a few weeks before to remind him and he said yes, he was looking forward to it.

The weather was terrible on January 6. It had been raining heavily all day. I did not expect him to drive over to Entourage Studios in North Hollywood from his Beverly Hills home on such a dreadful day. We were underway and I happened to look over my right shoulder and there he was sitting behind me! He was unobtrusive, as he always was when he had a camera in his hands. He loved what he heard and was very complimentary of Jan Lundgren, as always, and said he was looking forward to hearing the album. It will be out in a few weeks. He would have loved it.

He gave me a gift which was wrapped. I could tell it was a book. I was really touched and told him I wanted to open it at home when I was alone. It was The House That George Built by Wilfrid Sheed, a history of the golden age of American popular music. That he came out on that day, which I know was a personal favor to me, moved me deeply. The gift and the card that was with it is something that I will treasure for the rest of my life. He signed the card, “You’re the best…your friend and fan, Clax.”

William James Claxton is my hero!

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  1. GordonSapsed says

    I’ll miss Clax – he’s my hero too!
    He inspired me to step up my lifetime photography hobby in retirement to be more serious about combining photos and jazz ,,,,
    Your story about ‘The House That George Built’ is also a link — I started it at the weekend and I’m about 1/3 of the way through.
    Now I’ll always have that additional memory of Clax passing when I think about the book.