Nichols, Red (actually, Ernest Loring)
Nichols, Red (actually, Ernest Loring)
Nichols, Red (actually, Ernest Loring), noted early jazz cornetist, bandleader; b. Ogden, Utah, May 8, 1905; d. Las Vegas, June 28, 1965. His small group recordings between 1926 and 1929 were among the most fascinating and intelligent of their time. Recorded under a variety of names and leaders, most famously Red Nichols and his Five Pennies, they were widely admired by musicians including Lester Young. They utilized complex arrangements, whole-tone scales and, as early as December 1926, the tympani of Vic Berton. But Nichols then went into pop music and many forgot his innovative early work. He has been called a Beiderbecke clone when in fact he began recording before Bix.
His father was a college music teacher, specializing in clarinet. Red started on bugle at the age of four, cornet at five; and at 12 was featured in the family musical act and in his father’s brass band. He gigged with local bandleaders, then gained scholarship to Culver Military Academy (December 1919). He played cornet, violin, and piano at the Academy until being dismissed in September 1920. Nichols returned to Utah, played in pit orchestras, then joined Ray Stilson (on cornet, doubling violin) in 1922; later that year he joined the Syncopating Five (a seven-piece group) and made his first (private) recordings. He was soon appointed leader of the band, and worked in Atlantic City (early 1923) and Lake James, Ind. In late 1924 Nichols joined Sam Lanin in N.Y., and worked for many bandleaders including Harry Reser, Benny Krueger, Ross Gorman, Vincent Lopez, Don Voorhees, and the Calif. Ramblers. From December 1926 he regularly led own recording studio groups, often with Miff Mole, Eddie Lang, Jimmy Dorsey, Artie Schutt, and Vic Berton. He also took part in countless freelance sessions. He played with Paul Whiteman during May 1927, then led his own bands and orchestras from 1928–30, also working for several Broadway shows and occasionally touring (late 1928 to early 1929). He continued to lead own studio groups until 1932: the Five Pennies, the Redheads, the Arkansas Travelers, Louisiana Rhythm Kings, Charleston Chasers, etc., now also including at times Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Adrian Rollini, Gene Krupa, mellophone specialist Dudley Fosdick, Glenn Miller, and Joe Venuti. During the 1930s Nichols had a regular radio series and was performing fairly standard dance work by this time. Except for short breaks, he continued to lead his own band until spring of 1942, when he sold the band to Anson Weeks. Nichols then moved to Calif, and left music to do mostly defense work in the shipyards. He played with Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Band from February until June 1944, and reformed the Five Pennies as a Dixieland sextet. From September 1944 through the 1950s, the group worked mainly in L.A. and San Francisco. The movie The Five Pennies starring Danny Kaye was released in 1959. It was very loosely based on Nichols’s career, taken from the book of the same name by Grady Johnson. Nichols was also a subject on the television show This is Your Life and appeared in the film The Gene Krupa Story In the early 1960s the group played many important residencies throughout the U.S., touring overseas in 1960 and 1964. While fulfilling a residency at the Las Vegas casino Top of the Mint, Nichols suffered a fatal heart attack at a nearby hotel.
Jazz Time (1950); Syncopated Chamber Music, Vol. 2 (1953); R.N. and Band (1953); Hot Pennies (1957); Parade of the Pennies (1958); R.N. and the Five Pennies (1959); R.N. and His Pennies (1960); Blues and Old Time Rags (1964); “Battle Hymn of the Republic” (1959).
R. Venables, Complete Discography of R.N. (Melbourne, Australia); H. Lange, R.N.: Ein Portrat (Wetzlar, Germany, I960).
—John ChiltonWho’s Who of Jazz/Lewis Porter