William Claxton (1927-2008)

One of the great West Coast photographers and chroniclers of American jazz has passed away in his hometown of Los Angeles at the age of 80. We were honored to have run an extensive interview with William Claxton, along with a pictorial of his work, in our Jazz Issue, released in February; Taschen, publisher of Claxton’s extraordinary collection Jazz Life (as well as collections of his photographs of Steve McQueen and vibrant city life in 1960s New Orleans), recently issued this personal reflection on Claxton; and the Los Angeles Times has published a comprehensive obituary.

We were proud to have met and worked with Clax. In this portion of our interview, conducted at his home on Mulholland Drive on October 10th, 2007, he commented on his nickname and its connection to Miles Davis: “Miles, when he was young, loved the camera, loved being photographed, loved being a handsome playboy, which he was,” Claxton said. “He really was a playboy. He had women all over the place who dressed beautifully. In the Fifties, he wore the best of Brooks Brothers: white shirt, Oxford grey suit, narrow black tie. He always had a couple of gorgeous fashion models on his arms. He was great fun. He had that raspy, funny voice: ‘Hiya, Clax.’ Allen Eager introduced me to him on the street in New York one night after the theater — you know how the theaters break and the streets are just full of people in the West 40s? We were walking and coming toward us was Miles Davis with a beautiful fashion model on each arm and Eager, a tenor saxophone player — a bebopper — said, ‘Here comes Miles Davis. You wanna meet him?’ We walked up to him and said, ‘Hi, hi, hi.’ Allen called me Clax and Miles said, ‘Clax? Man, it sounds like a household cleanser.’ [Laughs] Clax your sink, Clax your toilet, Clax your car. Later on Miles wasn’t much fun.”

Claxton was also an accomplished fashion photographer. In the fall, the New York Times posted this extraordinary oddity — a short film titled “Basic Black” made with his wife, model Peggy Moffitt Claxton. The clip is viewable on Page 4 of this page devoted to “The Originals.”