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JazzTimes 10: Essential Herbie Nichols Tracks

Celebrating the centennial of a still-underappreciated pianist and composer

  1. Herbie Nichols Trio: “Amoeba’s Dance” (The Prophetic Herbie Nichols, Vol. 2, Blue Note, 1955)

It still swings, it still has a 32-bar AABA form, but beyond those rough outlines it’s hard to locate a precedent for “Amoeba’s Dance.” From the grim dissonances of the melody to the erratic progression of moods and ideas on the solo (like a pep talk that hasn’t gone as planned) to the weird soft touch of the pianist’s left hand throughout (and Blakey’s uncharacteristic quiet on the toms), the tune is as original a statement as any being made in the mid-1950s. It also abhors humor, lending it an air of creepy mystery that was far from the era’s mainstream; critics raved, but a decade later, with Nichols dead, Blue Note still hadn’t sold out Prophetic’s first pressing.

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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.