JazzTimes 10: Essential Herbie Nichols Tracks

Celebrating the centennial of a still-underappreciated pianist and composer

  1. Herbie Nichols: “Who’s Blues?” (Complete Studio Master Takes, Lonehill Jazz, 2006 [originally recorded Mar. 6, 1952])

When it came time to make his own record, Nichols did have some commercial instincts. His first release for Savoy was a charming quartet take on Gershwin’s “’S Wonderful,” with his original “Who’s Blues?” as the B-side. The original was no far-out experiment, either: It’s a bouncy swinger, with a bebop hook and some unusual harmonies between Nichols and guitarist Danny Barker. To 21st-century ears it’s practically a pop song—certainly no less digestible than Monk or Bud Powell. Then again, Monk was still on the commercial periphery of jazz in 1952, and Powell was institutionalized; theirs was hardly safe territory. “’S Wonderful”/“Who’s Blues?” was tepidly reviewed, sold few copies, and did nothing to rescue Nichols from his gigs with old-line traditionalists.

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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.