Red Nichols Biography

Ernest Loring Nichols, 8 May 1905, Ogden, Utah, USA, d. 28 June 1965, Las Vegas, Nevada, USA. Taught by his father, cornettist Nichols quickly became a highly accomplished performer. Strongly influenced by early white jazz bands, and in particular by Bix Beiderbecke, he moved to New York in the early 20s and was soon one of the busiest musicians in town. He recorded hundreds of tracks, using a bewildering array of names for his bands, but favouring the Five Pennies, a group that was usually eight pieces or more in size. In these bands Nichols used the cream of the white jazzmen of the day, including one of his closest friends, Miff Mole, plus Jimmy Dorsey, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Pee Wee Russell, Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden. Although his sharp business sense and desire for formality and respect alienated him from hard-living contemporaries such as Eddie Condon, Nichols remained enormously successful, continuing to lead bands and record until the outbreak of World War II.

After a brief spell outside music Nichols returned to performing with a short stint with Glen Gray, and then resumed his band leading career from his new base in California. A sentimental Hollywood biopic, The Five Pennies (1959), starring Danny Kaye, gave his career a boost and during the last few years of his life he was as busy as he had ever been in the 20s. A polished player with a silvery tone and a bold, attacking style that reflected his admiration for Beiderbecke, Nichols at his best came close to matching his idol. As a band leader he left an important recorded legacy of the best of 20s’ white jazz.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.