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JazzTimes 10: Essential Herbie Nichols Tracks

Celebrating the centennial of a still-underappreciated pianist and composer

  1. Herbie Nichols: “S’crazy Pad” (Love, Gloom, Cash, Love, Bethlehem, 1957)

“S’crazy Pad” reads as Nichols in a sort of Jekyll/Hyde conversation with himself. A fraught, four-bar intro gives way to a brighter, more optimistic eight-bar statement; the ominous aspect returns, now with a soupçon of humor, to be paralleled by the optimistic aspect, now a touch disconcerted. The back-and-forth continues into the improvisation, with a series of high-pitched, chiming chords dominating the lighter side, but also extending into the darker side to clash with lower, single-note lines. The cross-pollinations are subtle; the tune is really defined by its duality … which of course also defines Nichols’ whole oeuvre to a significant degree. Hence the capstone of his musical legacy—the last track on his last album as a leader—effectively summarizes his artistic personality. (To the degree that such a nuanced, enigmatic figure can be summarized, anyway.)

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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.