Who's Blues – Herbie Nichols
The essence of Herbie Nichols, condensed into a neat blues head. This song comes from Nichols' little-known first recording session as a leader. A piano melody transcription is available for the in and out heads.
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- Recording: Herbie Nichols - Who's Blues
- Recorded on: March 6, 1952
- Label: Hi-Low Records (1403)
- Concert Key: B-flat
- Vocal Range: , to
- Style: Swing (medium)
- Piano - Herbie Nichols
- Guitar - Danny Barker
- Bass - Chocolate Williams
- Drums - Shadow Wilson
This blues head is a miniature summary of Herbie Nichols' unique style. In particular, Nichols' rhythmic feel, more of a slink than a lope or a lilt, is written right into the melody; the melodic direction dictates the proper accents. The stop-and-start rhythms, with subtly different placement of the phrases' beginnings and ends, are classic Nichols. The melodic material is triadic, with an almost Monkish sound; the phrases pivot between upper structure triads united by common tones. These common tones are the ninths of the I, IV, and V chords, but the phrases are far from transpositions of each other. The first four measures arpeggiate F, C, and A♭ major triads, with C at the top and bottom. On the fifth and sixth measures, the same triads a fourth higher are played in a closer intervallic structure, with the connecting F on all upbeats. The ninth and tenth measures use a similar phrase but with the intervallic structure in retrograde; the common tone G is played on the "ands" of beats 2 and 4, and different triads are used such as C minor. The last two measures have a contrasting ascending phrase, mostly stepwise. It's remarkable how much melodic subtlety is contained in these 12 measures of blues.
As can be expected from Herbie Nichols, there is an intro that is also used as a coda. There is no drum break as became a tradition in his later recordings, but instead a two-measure piano solo break at the end of the eight-measure phrase. This phrase repeats a chromatic "turnaround" over a tonic pedal point. Herbie voices these chromatically descending chords in thick voicings, mostly 13ths with ♯11ths. A piano melody transcription is available with both the in head (which is played twice) and the out head (once); click on the Piano Corner tab for more details.
We do have Herbie's original manuscript of this composition, which he sent to himself by registered mail thinking that was a way to protect his composition. This "poor man's copyright" approach never stood up in a court of law, so by the copyright revision act, it becomes a 1978 copyright. Herbie titled his original manuscript Blue Notation (Whose Blues). The record company used the title Who's Blues, so we've chosen to retain that for the jazzleadsheets.com edition. See the Piano Corner tab to see how his original lead sheet varies from his recording a year later.
This song was first released on a 78 rpm, and then on a compilation for the Savoy label titled "I Just Love Jazz Piano;" the rest of this album contained tracks by Paul Smith, Hampton Hawes, and John Mehegan. Another Savoy compilation placed songs from this Nichols session alongside Bud Powell, Lennie Tristano, George Wallington, Dodo Marmarosa, and Horace Silver recordings. A third Savoy issue put the five songs from Nichols' session alongside a 1955 Gigi Gryce/Thelonious Monk quartet session that includes the first recording of Nica's Tempo. Check out the Historical Notes of the slightly later Art Farmer version for details.
January 3, 1919 – April 12, 1963
Two years ago (January 3, 2019) we were at the Van Gelder Recording Studio celebrating Herbie's 100th birthday with his family and pianists Frank Kimbrough and Glenn Zaleski. Both Frank and Glenn each recorded a previously unrecorded Herbie Nichols composition, on the same piano Herbie played for his Blue Note sessions. These were the initial recordings that started my new project, the Herbie Nichols Solo Piano Summit. Read more...