Fayard Nicholas was half the Nicholas Brothers dance team, whose spectacular gravity-defying routines were the highlights of films like Sun Valley Serenade (1941), Orchestra Wives (1942), Stormy Weather (1943), The Pirate (1948) and many others. Paul Slaughter had the honor of photographing Fayard Nicholas several times. [Photo of Fayard Nicholas in 1983 by Paul Slaughter]
Here's Paul in his own words on the story behind the photos in this post:
"I first met Fayard and Harold Nicholas in 1970. Fayard, his wife Barbara and their daughter lived in a duplex apartment building next to mine on North Harper St. in West Hollywood, California. My apartment was large enough for me to set up a small studio, where I did some of my first early portrait photographs.
"It appeared to be a difficult period for Fayard, financially. I recall many an afternoon when I'd see him leave his apartment building with a lunch box in hand, strolling off in his uniform to work as a night watchman. Despite the job—which surely was a come-down from where he had been and what he had done for jazz, dance and film—there always was a snap in his step. Many times I heard him whistling.
"Anyone who met Fayard immediately was warmed by his smile, his laughter and exuberance for life. I'd often visit with the Nicholases back then, and Fayard would break into an impromptu dance step or two. How exciting to be with him.
"In 1983, the Los Angeles Times assigned me to photograph Fayard with the Tony-nominated African-American dancer and choreographer Donald McKayle. Both were working at the time on a new routine at a dance studio in Hollywood. It was good to see Fayard again and catch up with our respective lives. [Photo of Donald McKayle, left, and Fayard Nicholas in 1983 by Paul Slaughter]
"In 1985 the Los Angeles Baha'i community held a celebration for Dizzy Gillespie's 50 years in music. Fayard Nicholas attended, as did the great trumpet player Buddy Childers. As always, dear Dizzy was having a good time taking a picture within the picture. Fayard, Buddy, Dizzy and I all had embraced the Baha'i faith. [Photo, from left, of Fayard Nicholas, Dizzy Gillespie and Buddy Childers in 1985 by Paul Slaughter]
"I recall a lovely dinner I had with Fayard and Barbara in the late 1980s at the Motion Picture Home, a residential facility, in Woodland Hills, California, where they were living at the time. Sadly, both are gone on now. Fayard died in 2006.
"When you are in the presence of a great talent like Fayard or Dizzy, the air is wonderful and quiet. I find it's only later that you realize how very fortunate your were to have had the gift you were given, the experience of being with them."
Want more PhotoStory? Scroll down the right-hand column of JazzWax to the "PhotoStory" heading. There you'll find links to other posts in this series featuring photographers talking about their jazz images.