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JazzTimes 10: Essential Herbie Nichols Tracks

Celebrating the centennial of a still-underappreciated pianist and composer

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

Between its galloping rhythm and lithe, unexpectedly straight major-key figures, “Query” seems at first blush to reveal a lighthearted side of Nichols’ music. Naturally, it’s not that simple, with its first two breezy strains (Max Roach’s cymbals are downright frothy on the second) answered by a sudden, harsh chord—as if innocent curiosity were greeted with slamming doors. (Roach and bassist Teddy Kotick add rumbles that suggest footsteps walking away.) Nichols explores some darker undertones in his improvisation as well. Even these, though, carry their own brand of humor. There might be some irony lurking inside it, perhaps even some self-mockery, but its friendly surface goes great distances in inviting listeners into Nichols’ world.

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.