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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

February 11, 1996|Lynell George

CLAXOGRAPHY, THE ART OF JAZZ PHOTOGRAPHY photographs by William Claxton, with texts by William Claxton and James Gavin (Nieswand Verlag, distributed by DAP: $65; 132 pp.) Too often the term "stolen moments" finds itself tossed around in conjunction with jazz photography. It's an easy cliche that is not only dismissing but tacitly imprecise--especially in reference to William Claxton, who subtly eases past many jazz conventions. He insists on bending the cliche, twisting the irony. Claxton is reverent but not without the objectivity of a photojournalist or the keen inclusive eye of a documentarian--a skill that is most articulately demonstrated in "Claxography" with photographs like "Jazz Baby," where a prop infant lies atop a smudged cocktail table, surrounded by jazz accouterments: high-ball glasses, ashtrays and an abandoned clarinet.

Like a well-trained ear that distinguishes the nuances that make a trumpet solo by Miles Davis different from that of a Lee Morgan or a Chet Baker, the careful eye can discern elements setting apart a Claxton photographic excursion into the jazz life. Since, as Claxton himself admits, "in a sense I listen with my eyes," the photographs are imbued with something of the musician's style, something that exists after the lights are turned back up, once they have stepped off the stage and out of the trance.

What makes this collection unique in light of previous Claxton volumes ("Jazz," "Young Chet") is its juxtaposition of eras: Four decades of jazz and the voices and instruments that have formed the framework. There are the usual suspects in not-so-usual environments (Jack Sheldon traipsing through a Hollywood alley, slashed by headlights: Is that a trumpet or heat he's packing?). There are young lions echoing other eras (Marcus Miller in vintage porkpie, tailing his own shadow, or Mark Isham striking a noir pose--pinstripes, Venetian blinds and electric fan).

"Claxography" is a marriage, not always romanticized, of past and present, a memoir of the community of jazz, a memory map of how to we got here.

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