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JazzTimes 10: Essential Herbie Nichols Tracks

Celebrating the centennial of a still-underappreciated pianist and composer

  1. Herbie Nichols Trio: “The Gig” (Herbie Nichols Trio, Blue Note, 1956)

One wonders whether Nichols’ commercial dry streak informed the exasperated bursts of “The Gig,” recorded with Al McKibbon on bass and Max Roach on drums. Nichols’ liner notes describe the tune as a “happy modern jam session,” and there is some wry humor in it. But to these ears the winding 67-bar form is almost a rant, with the pianist’s stop-and-start rhythms and jabbing chords simmering with frustration and perhaps resentment. Then there’s that title, “The Gig”—that source of all the leader’s professional difficulties. Does it reflect his chafing at the constraints of the gigs he could get? Angst at the misunderstanding that kept him from gigs he wanted? It’s a puzzle that may never be solved, but not because it isn’t a masterpiece.

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.