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Red Nichols & His Five Pennies

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Biography

Ernest Loring “Red” Nichols (May 8, 1905 – June 28, 1965) was an American jazz cornettist, composer, and jazz bandleader.

Over his long career, Nichols recorded in a wide variety of musical styles, and critic Steve Leggett describes him as “an expert cornet player, a solid improviser, and apparently a workaholic, since he is rumored to have appeared on over 4,000 recordings during the 1920s alone.”

Early life and career

Red Nichols is a name which comes to us from the jazz of the 1920s, a time when Nichols was a fecund recording artist. But that name got a second lease on life when Hollywood made a movie, The Five Pennies, (starring Danny Kaye) very loosely based on Nichols’ life, in 1959.

Ernest Loring (“Red”) Nichols was born on May 8, 1905 in Ogden, Utah. His father was a college music professor, and Nichols was a child prodigy, because by twelve he was already playing difficult set pieces for his father’s brass band. The young Nichols heard the early recordings of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band (which was not in fact “original,” but was the first “jazz” band to record), and later those of Beiderbecke, and these had a strong influence on the young cornet player. His style became polished, clean and incisive.

In the early 1920s, Nichols moved to the Midwest and joined a band called The Syncopating Seven. When that band broke up he joined the Johnny Johnson Orchestra and came with it to New York City in 1923. New York would remain his base for years thereafter.

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