Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

JazzTimes 10: Essential Herbie Nichols Tracks

Celebrating the centennial of a still-underappreciated pianist and composer

  1. Joe Thomas & His All-Star Group: “I Can’t Believe That You’re in Love with Me” (Vic Dickenson/Joe Thomas & Their All-Star Groups: Mainstream, Koch, 1999 [originally recorded Oct. 27, 1958])

It would be difficult to imagine a less representative Herbie Nichols recording than the one he made with Dixieland trumpeter Joe Thomas in 1958 (his final session). It’s Dixieland, it’s a nonet, and he works as an accompanist, soloing for a meager and not terribly imaginative eight bars. Why, then, is it here? Because this is the music in which Nichols spent most of his career indifferently toiling. (“I once asked Herbie if the music interested him,” writer A.B. Spellman recalled in his seminal book Four Lives in the Bebop Business, “and he replied with a succinct ‘No.’”) To understand Herbie Nichols is to know not just that his music was eccentric and ahead of its time, but that its lack of acceptance kept him in obscurity, making little money, playing revivalist music in which he found little value.

Check the price on Amazon!

Originally Published

Michael J. West

Michael J. West is a jazz journalist in Washington, D.C. In addition to his work on the national and international jazz scenes, he has been covering D.C.’s local jazz community since 2009. He is also a freelance writer, editor, and proofreader, and as such spends most days either hunkered down at a screen or inside his very big headphones. He lives in Washington with his wife and two children.