given name Ernest Loring Nichols
birth May 8, 1905, Ogden, UT
death June 28, 1965, Las Vegas, NV, “a heart seizure”
father E.W. Nichols, a professional musician, teacher, and conductor / supervisor and
instructor of music at the Utah State Industrial School, Ogden, UT
mother Effie Manning Nichols
education one yr. at Culver Military Academy, Culver, IN
sister Dorothy Edith
wife Willa Inez Nichols, a dancer (stage name "Bobbie Meredith"), m.May 8, 1927
daughter Dorothy Lorraine Nichols Mason, b.May 30, 1928
grandchildren Barbara, Michael, Patty
residences 10548 67th Dr., Forest Hills, Long Island, NY (1935), 1897 Lucille Ave., Los
Angeles, CA (1944), Llano, CA (1953)
Nichols began playing music as a tot.
At the age of 4, in a parade held on August 9, 1909, he blew a bugle with the Utah State Industrial School boys' band led by his father.
About two years later, Nichols was performing tunes including Carnival of Venice on the cornet in public.
He reminisced that he learned fast - possibly because he had to put in an hour's practice each morning before breakfast, or he didn't get any breakfast.
But, to his father’s displeasure, by the time Nichols was a teenager and heading toward manhood he gravitated toward a new kind of music -- jazz -- played by the pioneering group the Original Dixieland Jazz Band.
He said that his father didn't like jazz at all.
In his dad's mind, it probably didn't help that Nichols began hanging out with the "shady characters" around the local pool hall and that, in 1920 while attending the Culver Military Academy in Indiana on a music scholarship, he was expelled when he got caught smoking.
But that left Nichols' life wide open to pursuing music as a career.
In 1923 he joined a cooperative band known as the "Syncopating Five" (even though there were, counting him, seven people in the group at that point), and made his first records, Toot, Toot, Tootsie, Goodbye and Chicago, with them.
For a job at the Ambassador Hotel in Atlantic City, NJ, they changed their name to the "Royal Palms Orchestra," then Nichols and the band's trombonist, Chuck Campbell, were offered a big raise to join Johnny Johnson in New York City.
Once there, Nichols had the opportunity to organize a band of his own at the Pelham Heath Inn.
After a disagreement with the Inn's management about the length of intermissions, Nichols went to work for bandleader Sam Lanin, who helped him to form his first recording groups, which included the so-called "Sam Lanin's Redheads."
Nichols sometimes did as many as a dozen recording sessions in one week; making jazz records during that period was typically done at the completion of a date and often used pseudonyms to avoid any problems with contractual commitments elsewhere.
It was the drummer Vic Berton who suggested the name the "Five Pennies."
Nichols’ early jazz discs included such titles as Boneyard Shuffle and Bugle Call Rag (with Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto saxophone), Ida! Sweet As Apple Cider (arranged by Lennie Hayton), Who's Sorry Now? (featuring Benny Goodman), Indiana (arranged by Glenn Miller), and Delishious (with Will Bradley and Artie Shaw).
Nichols led the pit orchestras for two Broadway shows with music written by George Gershwin, “Strike Up the Band,” which opened in January 1930, and “Girl Crazy,” which debuted in October of that year.
In 1932, he was being billed on recordings as Red Nichols "and His Orchestra," and with the trend toward swing over the next several years, he landed a couple of major network radio shows, including the "Kellogg Prom" series, sponsored by Kellogg's Cereal with singer Ruth Etting, and Bob Hope’s first radio series, “The Atlantic Family,” which aired on CBS in 1936 and was sponsored by Atlantic White Flash Gasoline.
With a 12-piece band (two trumpets, two trombones, four saxes, and four rhythm), Nichols made transcriptions for the World label on November 30, 1936; a dozen sides for Variety in March 1937; and then switched to Bluebird Records in 1939, for whom he recorded 25 sides, including Wail of the Winds (his theme), The Parade of the "Pennies," Poor Butterfly, andTears From My Inkwell; as well as four sides for Okeh in 1940 including Overnight Hop and Meet Miss Eight Beat.
Nichols’ band appeared at, to name a few venues, the Earle Theater in Washington, D.C.; the Netherlands Plaza in Cincinnati, OH; the Marine Room of the Willows in Oakmont, PA; the Biltmore Hotel in Dayton, OH; and the Trianon Ballroom in Chicago.
After his band closed at Lantz's Merry-Go-Round in Dayton, OH on April 19, 1942, Nichols quit the music business in disgust.
Nichols later commented, " . . . big band jazz was never for me."
Instead, he wished that he could help America's war effort and got a defense job as a shipfitter's helper with the Pacific Bridge Company of Oakland, CA.
In 1943, his daughter became ill with what was thought to be polio. Naturally, Nichols was concerned, but relieved when she recovered.
Meanwhile, he decided to return to music as a sideman, accepting an offer to join Glen Gray and the Casa Loma Orchestra on February 9, 1944, while they were playing at the College Inn of the Sherman Hotel in Chicago. Supposedly, Nichols was under the impression that a smaller, “band-within-a-band” was to be formed around him – but that didn’t happen, so he left the Casa Loma band on June 28, 1944, while they were at the Hotel Pennsylvania in New York City.
From then on, for the rest of his career, Nichols again led his own groups, typically small combos.
He made records for various companies from 1944 to 1963, among them Capitol, where he played cornet on four songs in 1956 for the album "The Andrews Sisters in Hi-Fi" (W 790), namely Rancho Pillow, Beer Barrel Polka (Roll Out the Barrel), Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy, and Rum and Coca-Cola.
Under his own name, he made quite a few LPs for Capitol, beginning with "Hot Pennies"
(T 775), "In Love with Red" (T 999), and “Parade of the Pennies” (Capitol ST 1051).
In the liner notes to a 1958 live recording, “Red Nichols At Marineland” (ST 1163), Nichols joked that several alternate titles had been considered – “Music for Underwater Listening,” “Red Nichols Plays Jules Verne,” “The Pennies Whale at Marineland,” and “Music with a Porpoise.”
Later records included "Meet the Five Pennies" (Capitol ST 1228), “Dixieland Dinner Dance” (ST 1297), “Dixieland Supper Club” (ST 1665), and a “Star Line” compilation, “The All-Time Hits of Red Nichols and His Five Pennies” (ST 1803).
The cover photograph on his last album, made in October 1963 for Capitol, “Red Nichols and the Five Pennies Play Blues and Old-Time Rags” (ST 2065), showed that Nichols and his musicians were getting older. He and his drummer of more than 20 years, Rollie Culver, both had gray hair, and clarinetist Bill Wood, on the bandstand with them for a decade, was balding. Even the “new” men in the group, pianist Bill Campbell and trombonist Richard Nelson, plus one-time Woody Herman bassist Walt Yoder, had gray or thinning hair.
Red Nichols in His Own Words:
" . . . I grew up in an atmosphere of musical discipline that has been a great help to me all my life,
and I never cease to be grateful to my father for it."
"Because I have stuck closely to the same general pattern in my own music most of my
professional life, latter day authorities, self-styled and otherwise, regard me as a 'reactionary'-a guy
who doesn't believe in 'progress' in music. Actually, I believe that music, like every other art form,
must change with the times."
"When I quit Whiteman, my chair was taken by Bix Beiderbecke. To me that is still the greatest
honor I have ever received."
" . . . I don't worry about what the so-called jazz critics think. I don't hope to please everyone; I
play the way I like, the way I feel it . . . "
"Every man in the band has the opportunity for individual expression; we play with freedom, but it’s
disciplined freedom, so that the result has an over-all pattern. This pattern gives it form, and
without form there is nothing, even in an art as fluid and subject to change as jazz music."
In October 1954, Robert Smith had written a 10-page story of Nichols’ life, which he titled “Intermission.”
Paramount Pictures bought the rights to make it into a feature film, but, in doing so, took many liberties with the facts and eventually re-named it "The Five Pennies." (Perhaps trying to come up with the right fictional elements, not to mention a Musicians' Union strike against the film studios, explains why it wasn't released until August 1959.)
Actor-comedian Danny Kaye did an acceptable job as Nichols.
“Kaye has an easy and natural way with youngsters and does well with his role as a devoted, if slightly unconventional, father who sees no reason why his small daughter shouldn’t travel with his band, play poker or stay up until 2 a.m.,” one critic wrote. “At the insistence of his wife-nicely played by Barbara Bel Geddes-the overindulged child is sent away to a boarding school, while her father climbs the hectic ladder of musical success with his band.”
However, in a particularly ridiculous bit of casting, Ray Anthony portrayed “Jimmy Dorsey” and Bob Crosby played a bandleader named “Wil Valentine.”
At least they had Nichols himself perform all the cornet solos for the soundtrack.
Importantly, the film won him a new following and regular gigs at venues around the country, including the Round Table in New York City; the Maramore Club in Columbus, OH; and the Sheraton Palace Hotel in San Francisco.
“He doesn’t depend on nostalgia or sentiment, as the movie did,” Will Leonard observed in the Chicago Daily Tribune, “but blows a horn that is both mellow and lively, at the London House.”
On May 27, 1965, Nichols and his group opened an engagement at the newly-opened Top of the Mint lounge in Las Vegas, but, barely over a month later, he was stricken by a heart attack at Blair House, a plush motel where he was staying.
A bit of trivia that has been brought up since his death was that he was one of the most-recorded jazz players ever – from the 1920s to the ‘60s, he is believed present on thousands upon thousands of recordings as a sideman or leader.
Which goes to show that a few "Nichols" here and a few "pennies" there really added up to a lot!
“Cornet player’s 100th,” [ Salt Lake City, UT ] Deseret News, May 6, 2005.
James Dapogny, "Nichols, Red," in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Second Edition:
Volume 2 Gabler - Niewood (New York City: Grove's Dictionaries Inc., 2002),
Dave Dexter, Jr., liner notes, “The Uncollected Glen Gray And The Casa Loma Orchestra,
Vol.2: 1943-1946,” Hindsight HSR-120, 1978.
Philip R. Evans, Stanley Hester, Shirley Hester, and Linda Evans, The Red Nichols Story:
After Intermission 1942-1965 (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1997).
Hedda Hopper, “Looking at Hollywood: Band Leader Red Nichols’ Life Story Will Be
Filmed,” Chicago Daily Tribune, Nov. 1, 1954, p.B18.
---, “Looking at Hollywood: Get Out Earmuffs! Danny’s Trying Trumpet,” Chicago Daily
Tribune, Mar. 4, 1955, p.A10.
Will Leonard, “On the Town: You Still Get Money’s Worth from Nichols’ Pennies,” Chicago
Daily Tribune, Aug. 13, 1961, p.W A12.
Red Nichols as told to Charles Emge, "Bouquets to the Living: Jazz Hit Its Highest Peak
To Date On My Mid-'20s Records: Nichols," Down Beat, Sept. 7, 1951, p.2+.
“Red Nichols, Famed Jazz Band Leader, Dies,” Los Angeles Times, June 29, 1965, p.3.
“Red Nichols, ‘Five Pennies’ Jazz Man, Dies,” Chicago Tribune, June 29, 1965, p.25.
“Red Nichols Held Over at Marine Room,” Pittsburgh [ PA ] Post-Gazette, Aug. 4, 1939.
“Red Nichols, Hot Music Maestro, Bewails the Passing of Jazz Era,” Washington [ D.C. ]
Post, Oct. 16, 1936, p.X4.
Bill Simon, liner notes, “The Red Nichols Story,” Brunswick BL54047, 1959?.
Mae Tinee [ sic ], “Danny Kaye Good in Red Nichols Role,” Chicago Daily Tribune,
June 30, 1959, p.A4.
I would like to expand this tribute with, if possible, a new interview of someone who was important to Red Nichols' life or career. Are you an alumnus of his band, a member of his family, or a collector who is knowledgeable about his accomplishments? Please contact me via e-mail