Ted Williams started his career far from the limelight, serving in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. But he took up saxophone and clarinet when he returned stateside, and then studied photography at the Institute of Design at Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and immersed himself in the city’s jazz scene. The combination of music and visual art would make his career, which is explored in the new ACC Editions book Jazz: The Iconic Images of Ted Williams. From the 1940s through the 1970s, his images appeared in TIME, Newsweek, Playboy and Ebony, and he got up-close with music greats Mahalia Jackson, Duke Ellington and Quincy Jones —as the above photos show.
“Critically, Williams’ photo archive comprises one of the largest collections of pictures of Duke Ellington taken by a single photographer,” notes culture critic James Clarke in the book’s introduction. “The Ellington photos are especially important to jazz history as they include rare images depicting the artist in non-musical situations,” from eating an ice pop in Chicago with friends to yukking it up with guests at his Christmas party.
There’s some fun trivia about the stars in Williams’s behind-the-scenes commentary on the behind-the-scenes photos, too. “John Birks Gillespie, in spite of his famous nickname, was not ‘Dizzy,'” he says. “His friends called him Birks.” He also recalls smoking a Sherlock Holmes pipe filled with “green tobacco” with the musician on the way to a hotel. “I was still in good enough shape to focus…Birks stayed mellow… probably for a week!” Another quirk: Thelonious Monk wanted vodka, fresh oranges and ice cream before an interview with the music magazine Metronome.