Rare Version of ‘Jazzlife,’ America’s Quintessential Jazz Book, Now for Sale

January 17, 2017 5:00 am
‘Jazzlife’ (Taschen)


The great American photographer William Claxton is famous for two things: a book of photographs of the actor Steve McQueen (whom Claxton also considered a friend), and his hundreds and hundreds of excellent compositions of the American jazz scene of the 1960s.

(On a side note: I once met Claxton in a Ralphs supermarket in Studio City, California, in the early 2000s. He was a very nice man—friendly and humble.)

In 1960, Claxton traveled the United States with noted German musicologist Joachim Berendt in hot pursuit of jazz music. What came out of this was Jazzlife. It’s a breathtaking collection of photographs and stories of legendary artists and unknown street musicians and has become a highly treasured item among jazz and photography fans.

Among the musical titans who are beautifully captured in the book: Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington, Muddy Waters, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Ella Fitzgerald, John Coltrane, Ray Charles, and many more.

To quote Newsweek, “Jazzlife is surely the most thorough and imaginative visual record of American jazz at mid-century that we’ll ever see.”

Recently, the art book publisher Taschen has reassembled Jazzlife along with many never-before-seen color images from those trips of Claxton and Berendt. It includes a foreword by Claxton that traces his travels with Berendt and his lifelong love affair with jazz music. Using the most modern digital technology, the collection also includes a restored audio CD from Berendt’s original recordings.

Each updated volume is signed and numbered. Every copy comes with four signed and numbered, 24 x 20-inch ultrachrome prints. And the entire compilation is packaged in a cloth-covered box. There are only 1,000 collections like this in the world, and each one sells for $2,500. You can purchase one (or more) here.

Interested in Jazzlife, but don’t need all the bells and whistles? You can find unsigned copies of the book here.

—Shawn Donnelly for RealClearLife

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