The music of jazz pianist Herbie Nichols is a constant on our playlists at LunÀtico and so it seemed fitting to celebrate his 100th birthday during our fourth anniversary celebration!
Bassist Ben Allison brings a stellar quartet featuring Allan Mednard, on drums, Steve Cardenas on guitar, & Michael Blake on sax, to explore the sharp turns and dense clusters of Nichols’ impressive catalogue. Ben, along with members of the Jazz Composers Collective, was a key figure in the creation of The Herbie Nichols Project back in the 1996. The band researched and performed Herbie's music and released three albums: Love Is Proximity (Soul Note, 1996), Dr. Cyclop's Dream (Soul Note, 1999) and Strange City (Palmetto, 2001). The albums featured many previously unrecorded Nichols compositions unearthed by members of the group at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC.
Herbert Horatio Nichols (3 January 1919 – 12 April 1963) was an American jazz pianist and composer who wrote the jazz standard "Lady Sings the Blues". Obscure during his lifetime, he is now highly regarded by many musicians and critics.
He was born in San Juan Hill, Manhattan in New York City, to parents from St. Kitts and Trinidad, and grew up in Harlem. During much of his life he took work as a Dixieland musician while working on the more adventurous kind of jazz he preferred. He is best known today for these compositions, program music that combines bop, Dixieland, and music from the Caribbean with harmonies from Erik Satie and Béla Bartók.
His first known work as a musician was with the Royal Barons in 1937, but he did not find performing at Minton's Playhouse a few years later a very happy experience. The competition didn't suit him. However, he did become friends with pianist Thelonious Monk even if his own critical neglect would be more enduring.
Nichols was drafted into the Army in 1941. After the war he worked in various settings, beginning to achieve some recognition when Mary Lou Williams recorded some of his songs in 1952. From about 1947 he persisted in trying to persuade Alfred Lion at Blue Note Records to sign him up. He finally recorded some of his compositions for Blue Note in 1955 and 1956, some of which were not issued until the 1980s. His tune "Serenade" had lyrics added, and as "Lady Sings the Blues" became firmly identified with Billie Holiday. In 1957 he recorded his last album for Bethlehem Records.
Nichols died from leukemia in New York City at the age of 44.
A biography, Herbie Nichols: A Jazzist's Life, written by Mark Miller, was published in 2009