Issue #150  10/20/2008
Photographer William Claxton Dies

William James Claxton, one of the great jazz photographers of his time, died of complications due to congestive heart failure on October 11th in Los Angeles. He was 80.

Claxton captured nearly all the greats of jazz, including Duke Ellington, Thelonius Monk, Charlie Parker, Ray Charles, Sonny Rollins and Bill Holiday. He also photographed pop stars from Frank Sinatra to Bob Dylan, and movie stars from Marlene Dietrich to Marilyn Monroe to Natalie Wood to Steve McQueen.

Claxton began photographing with a Brownie box camera. He got his fascination with music from his father, who had a collection of big-band records. Before long, Claxton snuck into jazz clubs in Los Angeles, wearing one of his father's suits to avoid being asked for ID, and, of course, carrying a camera.

Claxton was born in Pasadena, CA, on Oct. 12, 1927. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with a degree in psychology and briefly did graduate work at Columbia. He worked for Pacific Jazz Records, shooting and designing album covers. He toured the United States in 1959 with Joachim-Ernst Berendt, a noted musicologist from Germany.