Tuesday, July 20, 2010


Photographer William Claxton, sometimes called Clax, was a major force in record album jackets--fashion and advertising as well--for 50 years. Some of his covers for Pacific Jazz and a fine reminiscence he wrote were recently featured at Steven Cerra's splendid Jazz Profiles blog, here. I wrote my own small tribute, with some of Claxton's classic photographs as visuals.

I see a forest of umbrellas dance
in the second-line strut of many brass bands.

Alto spiked deep in his arm, Art trudges
up the steep street: Jazz's
weary junkie Sisyphus. Click.

In the silent bell for Round Seven,
Red hears Heaven's
black keys instead: click.

Chet and... what was her name?
... curled into their separate dreams,
and yet they clicked.

Monk grinned from the trolley.
Sonny leaned like a Joshua tree.
Ornette stubbornly stared, and I clicked.

I shot from the Haig to Bourbon Street,
to Manhattan's top salons, a fete
of photos. And each shot clicked.

I was West Coast most, I was
the Lighthouse and Pacific Jazz.
My lenses decried the cliques

invented by fool critics;
I worked both coasts, and in my Rolleiflex
the twain met, clickety-click,

like the U.P. tracks. Five decades.
A million photos. Nikon, icons; heads
of the state of Jazz, heavenly bodies. Click.

Click. Click. Paul goofing at the piano, Zoot
rapt in sax and smoke, and always Chet--
his hair, his thousand-yard stare, clicks-

distant ghost. I snapped Trane
stepping up and Dinah getting down,
Cannon at the Apollo and Pres on the edge... click,

gone. Shadows and light, all of my days.
But at night I worked cameraless, eyes
trapping an image with each blink:

Billie bright-eyed and Max suddenly still,
Gerry's big horn at rest, and all
of Ben focussed, and Duke... beyond. Blink,

blink, a photographer's dream,
eye am the REM cam
flickering... blinking...

till I wake back
in Shorty's world, me, Clax,
still alive and clicking.


Alan Kurtz said...

Very nice. Even I, upon whom poetry is normally as lost as Amelia flying circles around Howland Island, dug this piece. Thanks!

I Witness said...

And backatcha. Generous words from a notoriously tough critic!