Vocalion 15498 – Red Nichols and his Five Pennies – 1926

Red Nichols, late 1930s/early 1940s. Down Beat photo by Gordon Sullivan.

Red Nichols, late 1930s/early 1940s. Down Beat photo by Gordon Sullivan.

The eighth of May, 2016 marks exactly 111 years after the birth of jazz cornetist Red Nichols.  Nichols was one of the most popular and prolific jazz musicians of the roaring twenties.  I believe this disc was his first record with his famous “Five Pennies.”

Loring “Red” Nichols was born May 8, 1905 in Ogden, Utah.  Nichols took up the cornet, the primary “jazz” instrument of the day, and was a child prodigy.  Nichols joined a Midwestern jazz band in the early 1920s, and moved on to New York by 1923.  In New York, he met trombonist Miff Mole, with whom he played for many years.  In 1926, Nichols signed with the Brunswick-Balke-Collender Company, and recorded prolifically with his band, the “Five Pennies,” which often consisted of some of the best white jazz musicians in New York.  Although his records were among the best-selling hot jazz records of the 1920s, musical styles began to change as the Great Depression rolled in, and Brunswick dropped Nichols in 1932.  He continued to record throughout the 1930s and into the 1940s, but never saw such fame as he had known in his days of yore.  In 1959, Danny Kaye starred in The Five Pennies, a biographical picture loosely based on Nichols’ life.  At the end of his life, Red Nichols played in Las Vegas, where he died of a heart attack in 1965.

Now this here is one fine jazz record, a real classic.  Unfortunately, it has definitely seen better days.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s still got plenty of life left in it, but it’s seen more than its fair share of (probably worn) steel needles.  Nevertheless, I got it on the cheap, and I’m putting it up anyway.

Vocalion 15498 was recorded December 8, 1926 in New York City by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.  It was also issued on Brunswick 3407 and in the “race” series on Vocalion 1069.  The band includes Nichols on cornet, Jimmy Dorsey on clarinet and alto sax, Arthur Schutt on piano, Eddie Lang on guitar, and Vic Berton on the drums.  Though many of his “Five Pennies” groups were actually much larger, this one is true to its name.

First, the Five Pennies play Hoagy Carmichael’s “Washboard Blues”, a tune we last heard sung by the lovely Connie Boswell seven years after this side was cut.  This side starts out a little rough, but never fear, it gets better a little farther on.

Washboard Blues, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

Washboard Blues, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

Nichols’ composition “That’s No Bargain” is a sizzling hot side marred only by some stressed grooves during a loud section in the middle.  Fine modernistic jazz.

That's No Bargain, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

That’s No Bargain, recorded December 8, 1926 by Red Nichols and his Five Pennies.

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