Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Martin Williams on Herbie Nichols

"Nichols is original. He may remind us of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk, and of Fats Waller and Teddy Wilson, but it is also obvious that he plays with a jazz style that is thoroughly Nichols. The things he can do with time and the fact that his rhythms and harmonies are interrelated, indeed inseparable, are exceptional. He is not at all interested in currently "hip" tempos, mannerisms, or finger dexterities, and on the piece he calls S'Crazy Pad, he shows he is not at all afraid of a steady "four" rhythm, of a modernized version of a simple '30s "riff tune" conception, of swing bass and that he can bring such things off.

As a composer, he may work (as Monk often does) with basically simple and brief ideas. He has the capacity to turn and phrase them uniquely and to set them off with originality. And he can develop them compositionally.

The problem of communication is one of feeling there is emotion in Nichols' playing, but it does not flow outwardly. These introspections (for several reasons, of a quality usually called "haunting") remain essentially introverted. For some players, such a problem does not exist: automatically his emotions go outwardly to others. I would imagine Nichols' problem is rather like one John Lewis had to deal with (or perhaps Teddy Wilson or Johnny Hodges or Lester Young), for Lewis does communicate emotionally, but it is as if he had to learn to project the results of his introspection to his listeners.

It is a special problem that only some of us are faced with, but I think Herbie Nichols may be one who is."

-- Martin Williams, 1957

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