Herbie Nichols: A Jazzist's Life
Despite recognizing this widening of Nichols' musical resources, Miller clearly establishes that Nichols was a "jazzist" at heart. It is clear that although he was constantly rebuffed by musicians, listeners, critics and the recording industry, Nichols was deeply committed to the African-American experience and this is reflected in the idioms and metaphors he chose to use in his music. And his uniqueness as a musician rests in his appreciation of the harmonies and rhythms that came to be associated with much modern music. After all, Nichols was the one who said, "I keep remembering that the overtones of fifths created by the beautiful tones of any ordinary drum was surely the first music, the precursor of the historic major scale, no less, which was built on the same principles. That is why the cycle of fifths is so prevalent in elemental jazz."
Also for the first time, there is in Miller's book a fairly extensive review of Nichols' music as interpreted by Roswell Rudd, Buell Neidlinger and pianist Frank Kimbrough
who together with bassist Ben Allison
formed Herbie Nichols Project
and also annotated and re-arranged Nichols' music for larger format ensembles. This section alone goes a long way in establishing the accessibility and importance of Nichols' work in the context of the literature of contemporary American music.
This is a major work about a major musician whose time must surely come. Mark Miller's eminently accessible book will make Herbie Nichols' eminently accessible music to a wider and more appreciative audience.