William Claxton was a talented and successful photographer before he met Chet Baker in Los Angeles in the early ’50s. Baker was a fairly successful solo artist before Claxton began photographing him. As a result of their collaboration a jazz star was born, albeit one who gradually fell due to a lifetime of substance abuse and self-destructive behavior. And Claxton came away with some of the most iconic photographs of the era. As described vividly in James Gavin’s biography, Baker was an immoral man who frequently treated friends, family and associates badly, but none of that matters when looking at these stunning photos. In the notes accompanying the images, Claxton describes Baker as having “more than a photogenic quality: he had a unique sense of presence in front of the camera… He instinctively knew what to do, how to move, which way to look to catch the best light, and yet, I don’t know that he was ever conscious of these actions.”
Become a JazzTimes member to explore our complete archive of interviews, profiles, columns, and reviews written by music's best journalists and critics.