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Strange City: the Secret Music of Herbie Nichols

When pianist Herbie Nichols died of leukemia at the age of 44 in 1963, he left behind dozens of unrecorded compositions.

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Herbie NicholsWhen pianist Herbie Nichols died of leukemia at the age of 44 in 1963, he left behind dozens of unrecorded compositions. Some of them were entrusted to friend and trombonist Roswell Rudd, while others remained undiscovered for decades, until the efforts and detective work of a group known as the Herbie Nichols Project found them in the Library of Congress and elsewhere. For the past 10 years the Herbie Nichols Project has been performing and recording Nichols’ music, much of it never put on vinyl by Nichols himself. (Nichols recorded only a handful of LPs for the Blue Note and Bethlehem labels in the mid-1950s.)

Love is Proximity Herbie NicholsWe’ll hear music from all three of the Herbie Nichols Project’s CDs–Love Is Proximity and Dr. Cyclops’ Dream on the Soul Note label, as well as Strange City, the most recent recording (2001), released by Palmetto. In addition, Project co-leader and pianist Frank Kimbrough will talk about the group and the Nichols compositions that it’s recorded.

The best biographical pieces on Nichols to date can be found in A.B. Spellman’s 1967 book FOUR JAZZ LIVES. Roswell Rudd’s liner notes for the original Mosaic box-set of Nichols’ Blue Note recordings are fascinating as well, but hard to find these days. Frank Kimbrough and Ben Allison contributed a combined musical/biographical essay to the 1997 Blue Note commercial re-issue of the same recordings.

UPDATE: There is now an excellent full-length biography of Nichols from longtime jazz journalist Mark Miller–Herbie Nichols: a Jazzist’s Life (also available through Mercury Press). You can hear an interview with Miller on the Night Lights program Herbie Nichols’ Third World.

Music Heard On This Episode

Miss D.D.
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)
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Miss D.D.
Mary Lou Williams — Black Christ of the Andes (Smithsonian Folkways, 1964)

Notes: Opening theme. Composer: Mary Lou Williams

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Moments Magical
Herbie Nichols Project — Strange City (Palmetto, 2001)

Notes: Composer: Herbie Nichols

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Delights
Herbie Nichols Project — Strange City (Palmetto, 2001)

Notes: Composer: Herbie Nichols.

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Love Is Proximity
Herbie Nichols Project — Love Is Proximity (Soul Note, 1997)

Notes: Composer: Herbie Nichols.

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Bartok
Herbie Nichols Project — Dr. Cyclops' Dream (Soul Note, 1999)

Notes: Composer: Herbie Nichols.

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Bebop Waltz
Herbie Nichols Project — Dr. Cyclops' Dream (Soul Note, 1999)

Notes: Composer: Herbie Nichols.

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Strange City
Herbie Nichols Project — Strange City (Palmetto, 2001)

Notes: Composer: Herbie Nichols.

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Change of Season
Herbie Nichols Project — Strange City (Palmetto, 2001)

Notes: Composer: Herbie Nichols.

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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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