Into the jazz heartland

By William Claxton. Excerpt from the book 'William Claxton. Jazzlife'

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I was looking forward to Chicago. I have always thought of it as a place of extremes - especially the brutally hot and cold weather - and a friendly big city, much friendlier than New York. What we thought as the original Chicago 1920sstyle jazz was barely present during our visit to the Windy City. Most of that kind of jazz had made its way to New York by the 1930s. What we did find was great gospel music, the blues and, of course, modern jazz.

Joe interviewed Muddy Waters while I photographed him, although I got my best images of him at the Newport Jazz Festival a few months later. One of the many young blues singers we encountered called himself "Clear Waters," a nod to Muddy's fame. We also met Memphis Slim, who actually came from Memphis but was the most popular bluesman in Chicago at this time. Everybody wanted to record him. Jump Jackson gave us a blues party in his studio, which was really a large garage that he'd fixed up on the South Side of Chicago. So many musicians showed up that they had to open the garage doors. Then the entire neighborhood of old people, young people, children and pets showed up and joined in the festivities.

We met with the Ramsey Lewis Trio. They were dressed for the special occasion in sharp-looking suits, ties and hats - very slick and handsome. I took them out and photographed them on Michigan Avenue with the Chicago skyline behind them.

Joe and I headed west to Southern California, where we were lucky to enjoy many good musical experiences: Benny Carter rehearsing his "Kansas City Suite" with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Hollywood Bowl; a Duke Ellington recording session; and a great deal of activity in the jazz clubs, including the long run of the Lighthouse All-Stars, who played all day Sunday at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. The band included many of Hollywood's best jazz musicians, along with such guests from the East Coast as Max Roach, Lee Konitz and Miles Davis. Joe loved the idea of swimming in the Pacific Ocean and stepping right into a jazz club with many of the customers still in wet swimming suits and sipping cold beer. It was the good life.

Joe had seen many of the LP covers for which I'd photographed jazz musicians in unlikely places - Shorty Rogers in his son's treehouse, the Lighthouse All-Stars dressed in dark suits and ties standing right on the sandy Hermosa beach, Chet Baker and his crew on a sailboat - so he expected to see musicians in an outdoor Southern California atmosphere. I explained that jazz musicians are pretty much the same the world over. They work late hours and sleep most of the day. They are truly a nocturnal breed. The Lighthouse provided an exception to this rule.

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Ray Charles, New York City. (c) William Claxton