Herbie Nichols

Nichols was the son of St. Kitts and Trinidadian parents. He was born in San Juan Hill in Manhattan. Nichols was forced to work as a Dixieland player for a large part of his life. However, he is most well-known today for his original compositions. These blend bop, Dixieland and West Indian music with harmonies that were derived from Erik Satie or Bela Bartok. Although his first work was with Royal Barons in 1937 he didn’t find performing at Minton’s Playhouse a happy experience. He was not suited for the competitive environment. He did make friends with Thelonious Monk who was a fellow pianist, though his criticisms were more persistent. In 1941, Nichols was drafted to the Infantry. He worked in many settings after the war, and was finally recognized when Mary Lou Williams recorded some songs of his in 1952. He tried to convince Alfred Lion of Blue Note Records to sign him up from around 1947. Blue Note Records finally released some of his compositions in 1956 and 1955. Many of these were not published until the 1980s. The lyrics to his song “Serenade”, which he sang with Billie Holiday, were added. He recorded his final album for Bethlehem Records in 1957. All his recordings as a leader were released on CD. At 44 years old, Nichols succumbed to leukemia in New York City. In 2009, Mark Miller published a biography entitled Herbie Nichols: The Jazzist’s Life. Roswell Rudd has promoted Nichols’ music with the most energy in recent years. Rudd worked with Nichols during the 1960s. Rudd has recorded or programmed at least three albums with Nichols’ compositions. These include The Unheard Herbie Nichols (1996), and The Unpublished Works ((2000)). The Steve Lacy quintet, Misha Mengelberg and Han Bennink performed Nichols’ music at the Ravenna Jazz Festival, Italy, in 1984. The Herbie Nichols Project, a New York-based group that is part of the Jazz Composers Collective, has recorded three albums that are largely dedicated to unrecorded Nichols compositions. Many of these were deposited in the Library of Congress. Wikipedia

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