Photographer William Claxton, whose iconic shots captured Steve McQueen and Chet
Baker at their coolest, has died in Los Angeles at the age of 80.
Claxton was celebrated for his moody black-and-white portraits of leading
jazzmen such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Art Pepper and
Thelonious Monk. His photographs of musicians at work around the US in 1960,
taken on a four-month journey accompanied by musicologist Joachim-Ernst Berendt,
were collected in the book Jazzlife. Claxton took the famous photograph of a
brooding Chet Baker with his face reflected on the piano (below). His Baker
portraits were collected in the book Young Chet, with a note from Claxton that
photography is "jazz for the eye".
Claxton's photographs made striking album covers for Pacific Jazz Records, such
as the shot of a seaborne Baker blowing his trumpet in the wind on the sleeve of
the 1956 album, Chet Baker and Crew. Shooting LP covers was, wrote Claxton, a
"simple and delightful experience" - and an intimate arrangement he preferred to
the wrangling of executives and stylists that would accompany CD cover shoots in
Born and raised in California, Claxton snapped other leading musicians
throughout a career spanning more than 50 years, including Frank Sinatra, Joni
Mitchell, Barbra Streisand, Diana Ross, Tom Jones and - most recently - Bob
Dylan. His contribution to music included setting up the organisation that runs
the Grammy awards; he was handed the Lucie award for music photography in 2003.
His work appeared in Interview, Time, Life and Vogue and he teamed up with his
wife, model Peggy Moffitt, to work in the field of fashion with designer Rudi
Gernreich. Claxton also took many candid snaps of legendary film stars,
including Marlene Dietrich and, most notably, his friend Steve McQueen, often
shown posing behind the wheel of his beloved automobiles. A collection of
Claxton's photographs of comedians, including Robin Williams and Billy Crystal,
was published in 1999.
Claxton died on Saturday from complications stemming from congestive heart
failure. He is survived by his wife Peggy Moffitt Claxton and his son,