"Your Pictures Have Soul"
"I’m coming to do a study of America’s great art – jazz. I need a photographer and I want you because your pictures have soul.” William Claxton heard those words over the phone from Joachim-Ernst Berendt in October of 1959. Berendt’s Jazz Book had been published seven years before and was quickly becoming known as a definitive book on jazz. (It did become so known. It has since been translated into many languages and is still being updated and reprinted.)
Berendt had become familiar with Claxton’s photography from European publications and record covers. What young photographer could decline such an offer? William Claxton certainly couldn’t. They met in New York City and the journalist and the photographer began what would turn out to be one of the more significant road trips in history – at least in jazz history.
The first ten images precede the title page and provide convincing evidence that Berendt’s description was correct. Claxton’s images do indeed have soul. Nine of the ten pictures cover both pages and begin with The Tuxedo Marching Band in New Orleans performing to the delight of three children running in the street before them. Just before the title page is a black and white image of Stan Getz playing his saxophone outside a stage door in Hollywood at night illuminated by a single overhead light.
The journalist’s jazz junket with photographer in tow took them from New York City all the way to San Francisco with significant stops in between. Eventually the two artists created enough material in words and images to fill seventeen chapters and over 550 pages. Each chapter begins with an essay by Berendt followed by Claxton’s photos. Our copy is a 2010 special edition from Taschen celebrating the publisher’s 25th anniversary. As is typical for Taschen, the text appears in three languages and at 10” X 14”, Jazz Life is a dominating coffee table book. A music CD is a bonus and will be reviewed separately.
We’ve recently reported on several other books by Taschen and like the others, this edition represents the best of the publishers efforts. These books include heavy stock, glossy paper that complements the photographers’ work and presents the images in their best light. Tonal ranges and details appear flawlessly and clearly. The roots of this popular genre are explored as the pair visit locations along the Mississippi River with stops in New Orleans, Memphis and St. Louis. Some of the other cities visited include Chicago, Philadelphia, Kansas City. In addition to the City of New Orleans, the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola also gets a chapter. New York gets five chapters covering the city, Harlem, Greenwich Village and then separate chapters on traditional and mainstream and avant-garde jazz. A backstage visit with Duke Ellington became a long term friendship.Continued on the next page