Word has just come in that William Claxton died on Saturday in Los Angeles of congestive
heart failure. He was one day short of his eighty-first birthday. With his pictures of Chet Baker in the early 1950s, Claxton established himself as a brilliant photographer of jazz musicians and went on to a career as one of the most admired camera artists in the world. He did incomparable work not only in jazz, but also with a varied array of personalities including Frank Sinatra, Marlene Dietrich, Igor Stravinsky, Fred Astaire, Joan Baez, Steve McQueen, Chris Rock and Benicio Del Toro.
Clax was a friend, a colleague, good company and — in a category that seems sparsely populated in our hard, fast world — a gentleman, meaning that he was kind, polite, honorable and unfailingly considerate.
To see some of Bill Claxton’s work go here. This obituary from The Los Angeles Times includes a striking candid portrait of Clax by the Times’s Gary Friedman and one of Clax’s shots of McQueen. It does not include one of the Chet Baker photographs that helped make Chet and Claxton famous. The one to your left is from a session for Baker’s 1954 album Chet Baker And Strings.