JJ 07/72: Albert Nicolas at the 100 Club

Fifty years ago Chris Hillman looked forward to the closer connection the Common Market would bring with Continental culture. First published in Jazz Journal July 1972

Mezz Mezzrow and Albert Nicholas (right), in New York, 1947. Photo by William P. Gottlieb

Albert Nicholas, playing and looking marvellous on the eve of his seventy-second birthday, celebrated his anniversary at the 100 Club by proving with Mike Casimir’s New Iberia Stompers that he can still fit supremely well into a New Orleans style ensemble.

It is astonishing considering that he has been away from his birthplace for nearly fifty years and out of America itself for a score. How entirely of New Orleans his playing is – those Tios must have been thorough teachers indeed.

The one surprise was the strength of his playing, which enabled him to take the lead and command the band without any sense of strain. The Stompers showed flexibility accepting him in this role, producing a sound lighter and less dense than their usual, but hot and hard enough to push the visitor into dynamic dimensions not always evident on his records. At times there was a tough­ness in his approach which brought Ed Hall to mind, but generally it was the man we have always known, only more so.

He showed his capacity for relaxed poise and inventiveness in a set of charming solos with rhythm and was joined by Dick Cook in The World Is Waiting For The Sunrise which was perhaps the most delightful thing of the whole evening. The two-clarinet sound was once an important part of jazz and when made by two such sympathetic men as these it still has a fresh impact.

In the past few months we have been privileged to hear the two men, appropriately both named Albert, who are almost unarguably the greatest exponents of New Orleans clarinet still living. There is little doubt that Nick has always been the more complete musican, and he seems to carry his years the better of the two. While his suaver style prevented him from moving me as much as Burbank did he left me feeling entirely satisfied and full of admiration. Considering he lives just across the channel we see far too little of him. Vive the common market!