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Fri, 01.03.1919

Herbie Nichols, Pianist and Composer born

Herbie Nichols

*Herbie Nichols was born on this date in 1919.  He was a Black jazz pianist and composer.  

Herbert Horatio Nichols was born in San Juan Hill, Manhattan in New York City, to parents from St. Kitts and Trinidad and grew up in Harlem.  During much of his life he took work as a Dixieland musician while working on the more adventurous kind of jazz he preferred.  He is best known today for these compositionson that combines bop, Dixieland, and music from the Caribbean with harmonies from Erik Satie and Béla Bartók.  

His first known work as a musician was with the Royal Barons in 1937, but he did not find performing at Minton's Playhouse a few years later a very happy experience. The competition didn't suit him. However, he did become friends with pianist Thelonious Monk.  Nichols was drafted into the Army in 1941. After the war he worked in various settings, beginning to achieve some recognition when Mary Lou Williams recorded some of his songs in 1952.  From about 1947 he persisted in trying to persuade Alfred Lion at Blue Note Records to sign him up.  

He finally recorded some of his compositions for Blue Note in 1955 and 1956, some of which were not issued until the 1980s. His tune "Serenade" had lyrics added, and as "Lady Sings the Blues" became firmly identified with Billie Holiday. In 1957 he recorded his last album for Bethlehem Records.  Herbie Nichols died from leukemia in New York City on April 12, 1963 at the age of 44.  

Obscure during his lifetime, he is now highly regarded by many musicians and critics. His music had been promoted by Roswell Rudd, who worked with Nichols in the early 1960s. Rudd recorded or programmed at least three albums featuring Nichols' compositions, including The Unheard Herbie Nichols (1996) and a book The Unpublished Works (2000).  In 1984, the Steve Lacy quintet with George Lewis, Misha Mengelberg and Arjen Gorter performed the music of Nichols at the Ravenna Jazz Festival in Italy.  

A biography, Herbie Nichols: A Jazzist's Life, written by Mark Miller, was published in 2009.  A New York group, the Herbie Nichols Project (part of the Jazz Composers Collective) has recorded three albums largely dedicated to unrecorded Nichols' compositions, many of which Nichols had deposited in the Library of Congress.  

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