I discovered Red Nichols on a rainy, late 1970s Sunday afternoon when watching a TV repeat of The Five Pennies, the fact-based but largely fictitious 1959 Nichols biopic starring Danny Kaye. The film was lightweight, but the superb cornet parts were dubbed by Nichols himself, and I soon acquainted myself with the hot-jazz veteran via early volumes of Stan and Steve Hester’s fabulous Classic Jazz Masters series from Mole Jazz record shop at London’s King’s Cross.
Nichols recorded thousands of sides under more than a dozen names for myriad record labels. For those unable to find or afford the three-volume, nine-CD, 124-track The Complete Brunswick Recordings Of Red Nichols, released by Jazz Oracle in 2011, this thoughtfully compiled four-CD set from Acrobat is a superb, slimmed-down collection that offers a great overview of Nichols’ work for Brunswick in his musical heyday.
Often unfairly written off as a Beiderbecke imitator, Nichols was a fine cornet player, writer and arranger who could both improvise and read music. Having cut his teeth with, among others, The Syncopating Five, Sam Lanin, The Original Memphis Five and Roger Wolfe Kahn, in 1926 he formed his own band The Five Pennies which, despite the name, could include up to 12 or even 15 players.
In their early period the Pennies’ trademarks of ensemble playing and technical innovation were christened “chamber jazz” by critics. At first the sessions featured small groups, usually including names such as Jimmy Dorsey, Arthur Schutt, Eddie Lang, Vic Berton and Nichols’ longtime collaborator Miff Mole, with milestone tunes including Washboard Blues, Boneyard Shuffle, Buddy’s Habits, Alabama Stomp, Back Beats and Riverboat Shuffle. This and similar lineups grace most of the first two discs, performing the Pennies’ finest work including their gold-selling smash hit Ida! Sweet As Apple Cider.
The later 1920s and early 1930s saw forays into more commercial material such as Who Cares, China Boy, Corrine Corrina, You Rascal You and the novelty piece The Peanut Vendor. Nichols expanded the band, working with dozens of names which would later become giants of swing, including Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa and, following Mole’s 1929 departure, Jack Teagarden and Glenn Miller on trombone. These tunes from discs three and four may not be as earthy or essential as the earlier 20s cuts, but they are fine jazz recordings.
The Great Depression, coupled with his struggle to adapt to the new swing movement, forced Nichols to leave recording for work with Broadway orchestra pits or other bands. The 1950s Dixieland revival saw him return to jazz with radio, record, film and TV appearances and ongoing live engagements before his sudden demise in 1965.
Uncluttered by endless redundant alternate takes, this is a wonderful document of Nichols’ ensemble work over the specified period, and also features 11 tracks for Columbia by Pennies alter egos The Charleston Chasers. It is immaculately presented with a fully annotated discography and a detailed biography. Highly recommended.
CD1: That’s No Bargain; Washboard Blues; Boneyard Shuffle; Buddy’s Habits; Alabama Stomp; Hurricane; After You’ve Gone; Someday Sweetheart; Davenport Blues; Wabash Blues; Farewell Blues; Back Beats; Bugle Call Rag; My Gal Sal; Delirium; Cornfed; Five Pennies; Mean Dog Blues; Ida! Sweet As Apple Cider; Feelin’ No Pain; Riverboat Shuffle; Eccentric; Sugar Foot Strut (67.09)
CD2: Imagination; Nobody’s Sweetheart; Avalon; The Japanese Sandman; My Melancholy Baby; Mississippi Mud; There’ll Come A Time; Panama; Whispering; Margie; Imagination; Original Dixieland One Step; A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody; I Never Knew; Who’s Sorry Now; Chinatown My Chinatown; Allah’s Holiday; Roses Of Picardy; Alice Blue Gown; Indiana; Dinah; On The Alamo; Rose Of Washington Square (68.03)
CD3: Who Cares; I May Be Wrong But I Think You’re Wonderful; The New Yorkers; They Didn’t Believe Me; Can’t We Be Friends; Wait For A Happy Ending; Nobody Knows (And Nobody Seems To Care); Smiles; Say It With Music; Hallelujah; Sometimes I’m Happy; Tea For Two; China Boy; Peg O’ My Heart; Sweet Georgia Brown; Sheik Of Araby; Shimme Sha Wabble; Carolina In The Morning; Who; By The Shalimar (70.36)
CD4: On Revival Day – Part 1; On Revival Day – Part 2; My Honey’s Lovin’ Arms; Rockin’ Chair; Corrine Corrina; Bug-A-Boo; Sweet Rosita; The Peanut Vendor; Just A Crazy Song; You Rascal You; Fan It; How Long How Long Blues; Oh Peter (You’re So Nice); Honolulu Blues; Haunting Blues; Yaaka Hula Hickey Dula (Hawaiian Love Song); My Sweetie Went Away; Twenty One Years; Clarinet Marmalade; Sweet Sue – Just You; Going To Town; Goofus; Our Home Town Mountain Band – Part 1; Our Home Town Mountain Band – Part 2 (70.29)
Nichols (c); Jimmy Dorsey (cl, as); Arthur Schutt, Jack Rusin, Bobby Van Epps, Joe Sullivan, Rube Bloom (p); Eddie Lang, Carl Kress, Treg Brown, Wes Vaughan, Perry Botkin (g); Vic Berton (d, harpophone); Miff Mole, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Herb Taylor, Charlie Butterfield, Herb Taylor, Georgie Stoll, Will Bradley (tb); Eddie Condon, Tommy Felline (bj); Jack Hansen, Neyland Olds, Joe Tarto (tu); Joe Venuti, Murray Kellner, Henry Whiteman, Maurice Goffin (vn); Adrian Rollini (bss, goofus); Leo McConville, Manny Klein, Tommy Thunen, John Egan, Mickey Bloom, Ruby Weinstein, Charlie Teagarden (t); Pee Wee Russell (cl); Fud Livingstone (cl, ts); Lennie Hayton, Irving Brodsky, Fulton McGrath (p, cel); Craig Leitch, Scrappy Lambert, Red McKenzie, Dick Robertson, Harold Arlen, Paul Small, The Foursome (v); Dudley Fosdick, Bill Trone (mell); Art Miller (b, tu); Chauncey Morehouse (d, vib); Benny Goodman (cl, as, bar); Babe Russin, Bud Freeman (ts); Art Miller, Artie Bernstein (b); Gene Krupa, Dave Tough, George Beebe, Victor Angle (d); Sid Stoneburn (as); Wingy Manone (t, v); Larry Binyon (ts, f); Ray McKinley (d, v); Johnny “Scat” Davis (t, v); Dick McDonough (g, bj). All New York, various dates, 1926-1932.
Acrobat Music ACQCD7153