Last night I attended the annual banquet of the Atlanta chapter of the Asian Journalist Association and the event was wonderful. During the silent auction I bid on and won a beautiful photo book entitled “Jazz Life.” I’m reluctant to call it a coffee table book because the book itself is the size of a coffee table and weights almost as much as my soon to be 3 year-old son.
The book is a re-issue of one originally published in 1961. It’s a collection of photos taken in 1960 by photographer William Claxton as he journeyed across the country with musicologist Joachim E. Bertendt to document jazz music. The photos feature The Count, Duke, Louie, Ella, Miles, Monk, Mingus, Trane, Brubeck and many, many others. I get more inspired as I flip through each page.
What really strikes me about the photos is the access Claxton had to capture these unique moments. It is so obvious he had a relationship with these artists and became a fly-on-the-wall as Duke and Johnny Hodges worked on an arrangement, as Stan Kenton rehearsed and as Paul Chambers jammed (in his underwear) with Mel Lewis, Al Porcino, Wynton Kelly and Sonny Stitt. For too many reasons to list – some of those being agents, record labels, marketing, control and management – very few photographers get this type of access any longer. Back then the guys wanted their story to be told and they didn’t care if every hair was in place or if they looked like they had not slept in a week. Now that is access.
Not to take anything away from Mr. Claxton, I applaud his work and even envy the relationships he was allowed to cultivate with those musicians. In this day and age it’s 3 songs and you’re out. If you are lucky enough to get behind the scenes access you are forced to sign over all rights, your first-born and the piece of crap Ford you drive. I will always have fond memories of hanging with Dizzy Gillespie for hours in Georgetown and being serenaded by Aaron Neville as he played the piano at his home. But even then, a flack had given me restrictions on when to raise my camera. My point is, the times have changed.
I would love to hear what others photographers think about this.