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Thursday, January 21, 2021

Keith Nichols (1945-2021)

Pianist Keith Nichols died today (Jan. 21). A noted authority on ragtime and early piano styles, Nichols was born in Ilford, Essex in 1945. As a young child he played piano and accordion, becoming a national junior champion on the latter instrument. From running bands at school to becoming a world-renowned performer and scholar of 'classic' jazz, Nichols did it all with panache and a great sense of humour. 

To list Nichols' achievements would run to several pages, in summary: student years at the Guildhall, performing with and/or arranging for Digby Fairweather, Harry Gold, the Midnite Follies Orchestra, a first visit to America working with Dick Sudhalter (playing Carnegie Hall), and, one to dine out on, recording an album with Bing Crosby. 

Nichols featured on the soundtrack of Pupi Avaki's 1991 film Bix (alongside other jazz world luminaries including Kenny Davern, Vince Giordano and Bob Wilber) playing the part of Hoagy Carmichael at the piano. Nichol's extensive discography includes many albums recorded for the American Stomp Off label and Cumbrian based Lake Records. In July 2006 Nichols appeared at Sage Gateshead in an ambitious, Arts Council supported, tribute to Paul Whiteman. Keith Nichols' Jazz Artists performed alongside the Northern Sinfonia to a capacity audience. The concert was recorded and issued on Lake Records (cat. no. LACD 245).      

Keith Nichols enjoyed a long association with the north east of England, Tyneside in particular. In the late eighties Mike Durham extended an invitation to Nichols to play a pub gig at the Lonsdale in Newcastle with the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings. The following three decades would see Nichols return time and again to perform at the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival (Nichols' Collegians, Nichols' Wolverines, Nichols and his Rhythm) and later to participate in, and for a number of years, direct, the International Classic Jazz Party on North Tyneside (one of many memorable highlights being a concert presentation by the transatlantic Nichols-Duffee Orchestra). In addition, Dave Kerr's New Century Ragtime Orchestra would frequently call upon Nichols to join them in sellout concerts throughout the region.         

In a National Jazz Archive interview (www.nationaljazzarchive.org) Nichols said: I got to be a champion accordion player before I gave it up - the devil's music got me in the end at the age of 14. Keith Nichols b. 13 Feb 1945, d. 21 Jan 2021.    
Russell

6 comments :

Brian Bennett said...

So many happy memories of being entertained by Keith. Whether it was the back room of a pub, a jazz festival or concert hall, he was simply brilliant. Supreme musicianship on piano AND trombone. His comical stories and songs were hysterical.
A sad day indeed for the jazz world. RIP Keith.

carstairs said...

What an honour when Mike Durham asked me to be part of the rhythm section of Spats and his Rhythm Boys, lead by the inimitable Keith. With Spats on bjo, grr, uke and vocals,, Pete Soulsby or ,later, Nick Ward on drums, plus Frank Sjostrom on bass Sax we couldn't go wrong following Keith's lead. Quiet, humourous, hard-working ( and quick to modify the chords or routine without putting anyone's nose out of joint ) he was a joy to work with. I shall miss him as a 'real Professor of Jazz' and I am certain many others feel the same?

Anonymous said...

[Tiny point, It's Pupi Avati. See, https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0002194/ & https://variety.com/2019/film/news/pupi-avati-il-signor-diavalo-wide-1203219468/]

Brian Chester said...

What a shock when Patti rang to pass on the sad news. Such a fine musician and nice man. I've played and recorded with Keith on many occasions and it was always a delight. He will be badly (and sadly) missed.

David Burr said...

To say this is very sad would be to understate the general sense of shock at the loss of such a talented, influential and good-humoured individual. I spoke to him on the phone early in the New Year and he was characteristically looking forward to presenting a new project as soon as circumstances permitted.
We shall remember him.

Phil Rutherford said...

Such shocking news, the worst. Not just the public loss of a great performer, entertainer, arranger, jazz authority, one of the foundations of the Whitley Bay International Jazz Festival/Jazz Party, but the personal loss of one of the most genuine and generous people in the business, friend, mentor and gentleman. So many happy memories of playing alongside Keith in the West Jesmond Rhythm Kings, the New Century Ragtime Orchestra and at the Jazz Party. How we will miss him. RIP Keith. My condolences to Eve and to all his family and friends.

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