Red Nichols

Red Nichols Playing

Friday, May 8th, will mark the birthday of the famed Red Nichols.  Red was an expert cornet player and was the leader of "Red Nichols and the Five Pennies."  It is rumored that he appeared on over 4,000 recordings during the 1920's alone.

Red was born and raised in Ogden, Utah in the United States.  In the early 1920's, 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 went with it to New York City in 1923. New York remained his base for years to come.

In New York, he met and teamed up with trombonist Miff Mole. Nichols and Mole would end up having a close musical relationship spanning for a decade and the results would be a historic collection of some of the best Dixieland ever recorded.

In 1926, Nichols and Mole began recording the Brunswick label with a variety of bands, most of them known as Red Nichols and His Five Pennies. The name was a pun on "nickel". Five Pennies equal a Nickel, see what he did there. :)

Listen to: "Ida! Sweet As Apple Cider" by Red Nichols and His Five Pennies

He also recorded under The Arkansas Travelers, The California Red Heads, The Louisiana Rhythm Kings, The Charleston Chasers, Red and Miff's Stompers, and Miff Mole and His Little Molers. During some weeks, Nichols and his bands were recording 10 to 12 records. That was just unheard of at that time.

Check out some of the names that played with Nichols in his bands: Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, and Gene Krupa to name just some.

Listen to: "Five Pennies" by The Charleston Chasers

In the next decade, swing eclipsed the Dixieland music Nichols loved to play. He tried to follow the changes and formed a swing band, but his recording career seemed to stall in 1932. During the balance of the 30's, Nichols played stints with show bands and pit orchestras.  In the War Years, Red worked in the shipyards and later joined the United States Army.

After the war, Nichols was unable to stay away from music. He formed a new Five Pennies band and began playing small clubs in the Los Angeles area. Before long, word got out and musicians and old friends began showing up, turning his gigs into jam sessions.  How cool is that.  I'm trying to find some of those recordings, if any.

In 1965, Nichols took his Five Pennies band to Las Vegas to play a stint at the Mint Hotel. He was only a few days into the stint when, on June 28, 1965, he passed away from a heart attack. That night, the band went on as scheduled, and in a touching tribute, a spotlight pointed down at an empty chair in Nichols' customary spot.

Listen to Swing City Radio and you will hear many songs by Red Nichols and his multiple bands.  Nichols was such an influence on the music we know and love.

Swing City Radio: Playing Your Big Band and Swing Music Favorites from the 1930's, 40's and Today! - Big Band Radio Station Broadcasting Online from King of Prussia, PA.

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