One of the stories that Paul told was of an evening at a Rochester roller-skating rink. Paul was at a performance by Erskine Hawkins and his minimalist Tuxedo Junction band. I have selected a few photographs from that evening below, but first, a word or two from Paul:
“The economics of touring with a 16-piece band forced Erskine Hawkins to bring only 6 musicians, including himself on trumpet and Gloria Lynne, vocalist, to play a dance in Rochester, NY. The performance was held at a converted rollerskating rink.
Mr. Hawkins and the players were in good spirits, and supportive of my photographing the event. The tenor player, Julian Dash, strongly suggested I stay with him on the bandstand, when a ‘friendly shooting’ took place. A girl was most unhappy that her boyfriend had brought another girl to the dance and brought a gun and fired a couple of rounds – nobody was hurt.
This was a typical evening at this all-black function. At many of these events, I was one of the few, maybe the only white person there. There was no hostility, and many people were interested in what I was photographing. This is a time that no longer exists. Like Atget’s images of Paris at the turn of the century, these images are a time capsule, a record of a period in our history and in our culture, which we cannot return to.”
What I particularly admire about this photography event is the lack of photographs of the band. I find it infinitely intriguing that Paul spent most of his time on stage shooting the other way. Out, out onto the dance floor. It looks cold, along the walls, people are wearing overcoats. Must have been freezing. Those that worked the dance floor look a little more comfortable, for a time. Gloria Lynne pulling a cigarette from a package, surrounded by paper cups of coffee, perhaps spiked with a bit of whisky to keep warm. There is a wonderful mood in these photographs, a mood that is almost dreamy. Paul would often refer to these photographs as the Dream Dancing series. I got the impression that of all his work, these images rose to the top of his list. He was proud of these images. This was not Herman Leonard, or William Claxton. No cigarette smoke to set the mood. This was something entirely different. More real, more escapist perhaps, and definitely dreamy…..