Thursday, 5 September 2013

18. Red Nichols and Miff Mole

Born in Ogden, Utah in 1905, Red Nichols was the red-haired son of a music teacher and multi-instrumentalist, and as a youth Red played in the local brass band, as well as studying piano and violin. He went to a military academy on a music scholarship aged 14, but fell under the spell of jazz, to his father’s dismay, and he was soon home again and playing in bands around Ogden, as well as in the town’s theatre pit. He joined the first of several touring bands with which he criss-crossed the country, learning his trade, and hearing the early recordings of Bix Beiderbecke, who was to become a major influence on Red’s style (rather than Armstrong). Another of the influences on Red was his friend, Miff Mole.

Making Cents with Miff
 Carr et al believe Red met Miff Mole in Atlanta in 1923, but Alyn Shipton dates their meeting to 1925. Either way, from 1925 until the end of the decade the pair began a close musical association, recording a number of influential tunes in a variety of small bands mainly in New York, the band names often involving a play on Red’s surname, Nichols, such as the Five Pennies. The records became big sellers.

Miff Mole
Miff Mole, the elder of the two, was born in Long Island, New York in 1898, and played with bands led by Jimmy Durante and Gus Sharp, before joining Phil Napoleon’s Original Memphis Five. It was the recordings of this last band that were to influence Red Nichols, as Miff quickly gained prominence, lauded as the first great trombone soloist. Later, the great Basie trombonist Dickie Wells would call him “the JJ Johnson of the 1920s”, but Mole’s career was beset, even at the height of his repute, by ill-health. Ailing and with gigs drying up, by the winter of 1960 he had taken to selling pretzels in a subway. Working in the New York winter can’t have done him any favours, and by April he was dead. Miff’s death came just over a year after Danny Kaye portrayed Nichols – or a Hollywood version of him – in the film "The Five Pennies".

Red Nichols and His Five Pennies, Boneyard Shuffle:

Eddie Lang is on guitar, and the clarinet/alto sax is Jimmy Dorsey.

Red Nichols and His Five Pennies, Feeling No Pain:

Pee Wee Russell is on clarinet, and the bass part is carried by Adrian Rollini on the unusual bass sax. This time Dick McDonough is the guitarist.

Compare that with Red and Miff’s Stompers, on another track called Feeling No Pain:

 Their music is not bluesy, and it can’t really be said to swing, but it would be wrong to dismiss it (as it sometimes is) as “chamber jazz”; this is hot dance music, and could often be raucous.

Red and Miff on CD:
Morton and Cook recommend the Red Heads Complete 1925 – 1927, on Classics, and Miff Mole Slippin’ Around, on Frog Records.

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