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Claxton and Berendt spent time music halls and marching bands, side streets and subways, seekin to document the living musical phenomenon that managed to catch the America of the time – across social, economic, and racial lines.

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The result of Claxton and Berendt’s collaboration was Jazzlife, a collection of photographs that spans from coast to coast, encompassing unknown street performers to legends of the genre.

In places like New Orleans, New York, St. Louis, Biloxi and Jackson, Claxton’s images and accompanying texts examine jazz’s regional diversity as much as its pervasive vitality.

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They show the music makers and the many spaces and people this music touched, from funeral parades to concert stages, from an elderly trumpet player to kids who hung from windows to catch a glimpse of a passing band.

It’s also a tribute to the many characters whose names have reverberated through the history of music.

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Claxton met and photographed people like Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Gabor Szabo, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk and John Coltrane.

William Claxton, who lived from 1927 to 2008, began his career shooting jazz record cover art and made his name with images of such leading musicians Chet Baker, Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, and Billie Holiday. His work was featured in Life, Paris Match, and Vogue and in galleries around the world.

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He was joined on the road by Joachim E. Berendt, who lived from 1922–2000, a journalist, author, founding member of South West German Radio (Südwestfunk), and a producer of more than 250 music records.

His 1953 book Das Jazzbuch became the most successful history book on jazz worldwide. His vast collection of records, books, and jazz documents form the basis of the Jazzinstitut Darmstadt.

Jazzlife is available from Taschen now.

Tom Seymour

Tom Seymour is a Correspondent for The Art Newspaper and an Associate Lecturer at London College of Communication. His words have been published in The Guardian, The Observer, The New York Times, Financial Times, Wallpaper*, BBC, The Telegraph, CNN, Independent, Foam, New Statesman, Wired, Vice and The Royal Photographic Society Journal, for whom he won Writer of the Year at the PPA Awards 2020.

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