The Art of William Claxton
William James Claxton was born on October 12, 1927, in Pasadena, California. His appreciation of music began at home as his mother was professionally trained and played piano, harp and violin. Young Claxton attended grammar & high school in Pasadena and La Canada.
Early music influences were initially gained from listening to the radio when big bands were the popular music of the day. Later it was getting together with friends to listen to records after school to listen to Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Claude Thornhill, Johnny Hodges, Don Byas, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Wardell Gray, Howard McGhee and Charlie Parker.
Claxton and his friends would frequent the record shops that stocked the newest releases, especially the new craze, Be-Bop. Upon hearing the first Dial 78s with Charlie Parker, Claxton recognized that this artist was different from his other teenage heroes, Bird was doing something very unique. He was intrigued and yearned to hear more jazz from this innovator.
As a teenager Claxton devoured the photographic magazines of the day like LIFE and LOOK. He also enjoyed his mother’s and sister’s issues of VANITY FAIR, VOGUE and HARPER’S BAZAAR where he noted photographs by Irving Penn and Richard Avedon. Claxton was also influenced by the ample use of white space, innovative typefaces and the integration of image and text on the covers and interior pages of Harper’s Bazaar. He made note of the man responsible for this, Alexey Brodovitch, the Art Director for the magazine. Brodovitch reigned at Harper’s Bazaar from 1934-1958. Jenna Gabrial Gallagher’s profile below pinpoints the essence of Brodovitch’s achievement in magazine publishing and design.
ALEXEY BRODOVITCH: 1934-1958
By JENNA GABRIAL GALLAGHER ©2007
In 1934, newly installed Bazaar editor Carmel Snow attended an Art Directors Club of New York exhibition curated by 36-year-old graphic designer Alexey Brodovitch. Snow called it a revelation, describing “pages that bled beautifully, cropped photographs, typography and design that were bold and arresting.” She immediately offered Brodovitch a job as Bazaar’s art director. Throughout his career at the magazine, Brodovitch, a Russian émigré (by way of Paris), revolutionized magazine design. With his directive “Astonish me,” he inspired some of the greatest visual artists of the 20th century (including protégés Irving Penn, Hiro, and, of course, Richard Avedon) to create legendary images.
Brodovitch’s signature use of white space, his innovation of Bazaar’s iconic Didot logo, and the cinematic quality that his obsessive cropping brought to layouts (not even the work of Man Ray and Henri Cartier-Bresson was safe from his busy scissors) compelled Truman Capote to write, “What Dom Pérignon was to champagne … so [Brodovitch] has been to … photographic design and editorial layout.” Sadly, Brodovitch’s personal life was less triumphant. Plagued by alcoholism, he left Bazaar in 1958 and eventually moved to the south of France, where he died in 1971. However, his genius lives on. Thirty-six years later, the work of Alexey Brodovitch never fails to astonish us.
Brodovitch created a harmonious and meaningful whole using avant-garde photography, typography and illustration. After being hired he asked several old friends that he had met during his Paris years to contribute their work to the magazine; Man Ray, Jean Cocteau, Raoul Dufy, Marc Chagall, Henri Cartier-Bresson and A.M. Cassandre among them.
Brodovitch was the first art director to integrate image and text. Most American magazines at that time used text and illustration separately, dividing them by wide white margins. As seen above in these vintage covers, the Didot logo is overlapped by the head of the model in the cover on the left, and floats above the arms and hands in the cover on the right. These covers look as modern today as they did over sixty years ago. Brodovitch wanted each issue of Harper’s Bazaar to be unique, each issue different from its predecessor. William Claxton would bring the same philosophy to his approach of designing jazz record covers.
As noted in a previous post, this album cover was shot by Dave Pell. It was taken in a back storeroom at Drum City. Dave was on a ladder with the Gerry Mulligan Quartet sitting on the floor with the musicians arranged like a compass, Chet Baker to the north, Bob Whitlock in the east, Gerry Mulligan due south and Chico Hamilton out west. The image became iconic to west coast jazz and would be repeated “a la Claxton” for the cover of the Gerry Mulligan Quartet at Storyville, issued on PJ-1228.
The image of Gerry Mulligan above was on the front cover of PJLP-2. The back cover of PJLP-2 featured a photo of Lee Konitz (seen below) as that album combined tracks by the Mulligan Quartet on side one and the quartet plus Lee Konitz on side two. Both photos were taken by Claxton during a live performance at The Haig.
The Claxton photo on the back liner above was taken at The Haig with Gerry Mulligan, Chet Baker and Lee Konitz in performance.
When I interviewed William Claxton in 1995 we spent some time reviewing Pacific Jazz album covers. He was not pleased with the John Brandt cover that had taken one of his photographs of Chet and cut off Chet’s back. This was the only cover that Brandt designed for Pacific Jazz. The photo of Chet on the back liner was taken by Claxton at a Gerry Mulligan recording session at Radio Recorders.
The cover of EP4-5 with the black and white image of Harry “Sweets” Edison and the gold typeface was used as the cover of PJLP-4. Claxton reversed the color tone for the second EP cover with “Sweets” in gold tones and the type in white on the black background. This recording session at The Haig was done at the urging of partner Roy Harte, a change of style for the Pacific Jazz label and the modern sounds of Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker. Roy’s influence can also be seen in the order of listing of musicians on the labels and the back liner. The listing for the drummer was usually relegated to the last position following the listing of the bassist. Here, Alvin Stoller, a childhood chum of Roy’s from their days in New York, is listed second after the leader, Harry “Sweets” Edison. Score one for the drummers!
The cover of EP4-7 (a gate fold double EP set) is identical to the cover that appeared on PJLP-5. Claxton created this collage in the darkroom and it shows the change in the rhythm section with Carson Smith replacing Bob Whitlock who had left the quarter in late December of 1952, and Larry Bunker who had replaced Chico Hamilton. I have scanned the interior liner in three segments to present all of the photos and Will MacFarland’s poetic liner notes (not used on the 10” LP release).
The same Claxton photo from a Radio Recorders session was used for the covers of PJLP-6, EP4-8 and EP4-9. PJLP-6 covers were issued with three different colors. The original was in black and white, the same as seen on EP4-7. Another version used an orange tone as seen on the cover of EP4-8. A third PJLP-6 version used a shade of light pink. The back liners were all the same. Pacific Jazz was on a tight budget during these early years. Claxton recalled that Bock would only allow him one or two rolls of film for a recording session. As a consequence Clax would wait for extended periods of time before clicking the shutter, partly to be sure that it clicked when the level of music was high so as not to be recorded or disturb the musicians, and partly to make certain that the exposure was perfect and caught the musician at an expressive moment. Virtually all of Claxton’s exposures were “keepers” as a result.
In late 1952 the Brazilian guitarist Laurindo Almeida was performing at the 881 Club in Hollywood with a trio. When Harry Babasin replaced the group’s regular bassist they would perform some of Almeida’s native Brazilian choros, adding to their baiao, butuque and samba rhythms the syncopation of jazz. (from Pete Welding’s liner notes for the CD reissue)
Babasin was an active member of the jazz scene in Hollywood at the time and had been holding regular modern jazz jam sessions at the Tradewinds in Inglewood. Babasin and Harte were friends from the times they had spent in the same bands in the 1940s. Harry persuaded Laurindo to join him and Roy Harte in a practice room at Drum City where they experimented with the Brazilian forms, adding the alto saxophone of Bud Shank.
Bud Shank was another active member of the jazz scene in Hollywood, at the time a member of a George Redman group that regularly played clubs like Friar’s, Peacock Lane, and The Stadium. In addition to being a first call multi-reed musician for studio work, Bud was becoming a regular with Howard Rumsey’s Lighthouse All Stars in Hermosa Beach.
After several weeks of practice sessions at Drum City they had developed a dozen pieces that integrated the Brazilian samba rhythms with a swinging jazz feeling and approached Dick Bock who was still handling booking at The Haig about playing the current off night at the club.
They debuted the quartet at The Haig on August 17, 1953. The reception was very enthusiastic and they returned to The Haig on September 14 for six consecutive Mondays lasting until October 19, 1953. The Laurindo Almeida Quartet featuring Bud Shank went into the Art Whiting recording studio on November 15, 1953 and recorded their first album that would be released as PJLP-7 in the spring of 1954. The interior photos of the EP (above) were taken at the recording session. The Art Whiting Studio was located in the building at the corner of Santa Monica Boulevard and Gower Street where Roy Harte had his first drum shop after moving to Los Angeles.
The cover photograph showing lattice work shadows was taken by Claxton at his parents home in Pasadena.
EP4-11 repeated the front and back covers of EP4-3, this time using a yellow tone to distinguish it from the earlier release.
EP4-12 repeated the cover photograph of Russ Freeman (sans text) that was used on the 10″ LP release, PJLP-8.
Claxton used the Dave Pell photo that adorned the first 10″ LP release for EP4-13, this time highlighting the text in bright red.
Claxton’s design work at Pacific Jazz set a high benchmark for innovative design of album covers. His services were in demand at other labels and he did many covers for Les Koenig’s Contemporary Records and the Weiss brothers’ Fantasy label.
ALL FRONT COVER PHOTOS,
GRAPHICS, AND REAR LINER NOTES
© EMI CAPITOL MUSIC