'Jazz Life': Images of a Golden Era of Music

The best photographers capture timeless moments that can define an era, or offer precious insights into the lives of the people in front of the lens. William Claxton has done both.

Claxton, now 79, began making a name for himself in the 1950s, taking photos of some of the world's top jazz artists. Then he was given the opportunity of a lifetime: From 1959 to 1960, Claxton was commissioned to document the American jazz scene at the height of the "golden era" of the music genre.

It was a stellar year for jazz, which was at the crossroads between "old" jazz and new, breakthrough music forms. Historic music venues were hosting musicians playing every style of jazz, from Dixieland to Free Jazz.

Claxton crossed the country photographing mostly black musicians at their craft — from the primal slave songs of rural gospel choirs to the sophisticated sounds of New York bebop and beyond.

That journey, plus Claxton's earlier portraits of jazz legends, are both collected in Jazz Life, a massive 669-page book of photographs and essays.

Books Featured In This Story


A Journey for Jazz Across America in 1960

by William Claxon, Joachim E. Berendt and William Claxton

Hardcover, 695 pages | purchase


Purchase Featured Books

  • Jazzlife
  • A Journey for Jazz Across America in 1960
  • William Claxon, Joachim E. Berendt, et al



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