Herbie Nichols: “It Didn’t Happen”

One of the great unsung composers and pianists of mid-twentieth century, Herbie Nichols is probably best known for composing “Lady Sings the Blues,” a piece to which Billie Holiday added the lyrics, and it became one of her signature pieces. But Nichols was perhaps even more astonishing when he improvised on the piano. Here is a take of his composition “It Didn’t Happen” with bassist Al McKibbon and drummer Art Blakey. It was recorded May 6, 1955 at Rudy Van Geller’s studio in New Jersey.

While McKibbon propels the piece with his driving, walking bass, Nichols left hand explores remarkable melodic and intricate harmonic variations of a witty melody while his right finds the right spots to land skeletons of chords to anchor the piece, seemingly to keep the whole thing from flying into the netherworld. Blakey shows both precise time-keeping and remarkable ambidexterity, providing a percussive drive in the precisely appropriate timbre.

The period from the death of Charlie Parker to the death of John Coltrane was one of extraordinary inventiveness, harmonically and rhythmically. Both of those experiments join fluently here.

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