A photographer’s incredible journey in 1960 to capture jazz in America

The funeral procession home from the cemetery turns into a joyous occasion and celebration for the dead with dancing in the streets to the music of the brass bands, New Orleans. (William Claxton)

In October 1959, photographer William Claxton received an unusual call from Germany. On the other end was Joachim-Ernst Berendt, a music writer, who had his heart set on doing a tour of America’s jazz scene. He had seen Claxton’s work, and felt his evocative photography would be the perfect counterpoint to his writing.

The pair would start in New York City, hitting Memphis, Chicago, New Orleans, the West Coast, and many other places. By the end of the trip, they had captured the roots and heavyweights of American jazz, but also its fresh faces. The results of the pair’s work is shown in “Jazzlife,” (Taschen) originally published in 1961 but recently reissued.

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