Albert Nicholas/Art Hodes Quartet
The New Orleans-Chicago Connection
Albert Nicholas/Henry Chaix Trio
Kornhaus Theatre, Baden 1969
AS A boy, Albert Nicholas studied with Lorenzo Tio Jr, one of the prime clarinet tutors in New Orleans, and in his teens played in the bands of Buddy Petit and Joe “King” Oliver, whose Dixie Syncopators he joined in Chicago in 1925.
His clarinet sang in the bands of Luis Russell, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong and during the New Orleans revival of the 1940s he played with Kid Ory and Bunk Johnson, finally following his great New Orleans clarinet predecessor Sidney Bechet to France, where he spent the last two decades of his life bringing the Storyville sound to clubs and concert halls all over Europe.
In 1959, Nicholas recorded The New Orleans-Chicago Connection with his home-boy drummer Fred Kohlman and Chicago-based musicians, bassist Earl Murphy and pianist Art Hodes. The quartet play a succession of New Orleans and white Chicago band tunes associated with Muggsy Spanier and Eddie Condon like Digga Digga Doo and Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gave to Me.
They start off with Digga and Nicholas is immediately flying, his liquid notes soaring above Hodes's piano. Next up is old maestro Morton's Whinin' Boy's Blues and his high-register notes and beautiful sense of melody expose his artistry at every turn.
He sweeps into Song of the Wanderer before Hodes marks out a powerful solo, rocking through his own Windy City with Kohlman and Murphy generating a pounding rhythmic undertow. Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin' provokes Nicholas's crescendos of sound and deep timbres of empathy between pianist and reedman and the subliminal humour of Blues My Naughty Sweetie sets Nicolas's clarinet guffawing with a southern joy.
The album's most compelling track is Anah's Blues, where Nicholas's notes are sometimes soft, sometimes piercing and then tender again, as if the blues in his blood is speaking out in serpentine contradictions.
In September 1969 Nicholas performed at the Kornhaus Theatre in Baden with pianist Henri Chaix, bassist Alain Du Bois and drummer Romano Cavicchiolo.
Like his New Orleans clarinet confrere Barney Bigard, Nicholas could play Ellington too and he begins the concert with the Harlem tune C Jam Blues, full of swing and verve before he is back to Waller with the haunting Black and Blue, as Chaix supports him with a worrisome chorus. More Waller comes with Blue Turning Grey Over You, with the lyricism streaming from his horn.
Next is the featherweight swing of Earl Hines's Rosetta, with his clarinet's light notes hovering like humming birds over the rhythm. Then it's back to New Orleans and Basin Street Blues, played through the ache of memory and the plaintive Please Don't Talk About Me When I've Gone, full of zip and ironic romps through the choruses, with Chaix full of zest and joy.
But the apex of the session is Leroy Carr's Naptown blues How Long, which makes its long journey to Switzerland over ocean and alps, with Nicholas carrying the beauty and pathos of its tune as if he has brought it with him from continent to continent, its passage a message of his people's real life and artistry — the very soul of music.
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