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Buell Neidlinger | The Happenings: Music of Herbie Nichols

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The Happenings: Music of Herbie Nichols

by Buell Neidlinger

Buell Neidlinger, on 'cello, leads a trio with Howard Alden, 7-string guitar and Marty Krystall on bass clarinet and flutes in an all-Herbie Nichols program.
Genre: Jazz: Chamber Jazz
Release Date: 

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  Song Share Time Download
1. Another Friend (feat. Howard Alden)
2:42 $0.99
2. The Happenings (feat. Howard Alden & Marty Krystall)
4:33 $0.99
3. Valse Macabre (feat. Howard Alden & Marty Krystall)
5:21 $0.99
4. Old 52nd Street Rag (feat. Howard Alden & Marty Krystall)
4:45 $0.99
5. One Twilight (feat. Howard Alden & Marty Krystall)
3:50 $0.99
6. The Bebop Waltz (feat. Howard Alden & Marty Krystall)
4:42 $0.99
7. Strange City (feat. Howard Alden & Marty Krystall)
5:21 $0.99
8. Change of Season (feat. Howard Alden & Marty Krystall)
4:20 $0.99
9. Another Friend (A La Edgar Lustgarten) [feat. Howard Alden]
2:54 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
One of the most original composers and pianists in jazz history, Herbie
Nichols (1919-63) created a world of music that was barely explored
during his lifetime. ‘The melodies in his tunes are completely differentthan those of anyone else” says Buell Neidlinger. “And while most musicians usechords to accompany the melody, Herbie used them to make the melody happen, to
mean more. If he hadn’t been limited in his life to writing in the short-form mold
that was expected of jazz musicians of his era, he would have composed works on
the level of Prokofiev or Shostakovich.” Marty Krystall agrees. “Herbie Nichols’
music is so original that it is almost unplayable unless one studies it and reads it
over and over again. Some of his songs are in odd time signatures with codas or use
an unusual length for a bridge and the extensions. They aren’t bebop although he
came out of that period and they are quite quirky and individual.”
Herbie Nichols was born and raised in New York, growing up during the swing
era. After serving in the Army, he worked with such swing combos in the 1940s as
those led by Herman Autrey, Hal Singer, Illinois Jacquet and John Kirby. His earliest
recordings, as a sideman with trumpeter-singer Bob Mitchell, trombonist Snub
Mosley, trumpeter Frank Humphries, and altoist Charlie Singleton during 1949-50,
have no hint of his innovative style. Neither does his first session as a leader (five
swing-oriented titles from 1952) or a Dixieland date from 1953 led by cornetist Rex
The real Herbie Nichols is heard on five Blue Note trio sessions during 1955-56
and an album (also with a trio) for Savoy from 1957. Mostly comprised of his own
compositions, the music is filled with very original chord structures, unpredictable
themes, and fresh piano solos. Unfortunately, other than four songs with Joe
Thomas’ swing group in 1958, nothing more would be heard from Nichols on record.
He spent much of his career in the 1950s and early ‘60s playing anonymously in
Dixieland-oriented bands, none of which performed any of his songs. Only one of
his originals, Lady Sings The Blues (originally titled Serenade) which was recorded by
Billie Holiday, was performed by anyone else. Nichols turned down the opportunity to
become Holiday’s musical director in 1957 due to her drug use.

For the first time ever, this CD features a flute/bass clarinet-guitar-cello trio
performing the music of Herbie Nichols. “The instrumentation made me think of the
French impresionists like Debussy with the guitar instead of the harp,” says Neidlinger.
The project came together quickly during a busy four-day period that consisted of two
days in the studio, another day in which Alden recorded a solo CD Guitar for K2B2, and
a concert in which the trio performed Nichols’ music before an audience.
Herbie Nichols would have remained a forgotten musical genius were it not for a
few events. In 1987, 24 years after his death, the Mosaic label sparked an interest in
Nichols’ music by putting out a five-Lp set of his Blue Note recordings that was augmented
by many alternate takes. In 1994, Buell Neidlinger recorded Blue Chopsticks, a
superb exploration of 11 Nichols songs with a quintet that included the reeds of Marty
Krystall. In 2000, trombonist Roswell Rudd, who Neidlinger has known since they were
in high school in 1951 and who was on Buell’s 1961 recording New York City R&B (which
featured Cecil Taylor as a sideman) compiled a book titled Herbie Nichols – The Unpublished
Works. It is comprised of the melody and chord changes for 27 Nichols compositions,
most of which were never recorded by the composer. Rudd had managed to locate

Nichols’ large pieces of music paper, saving the songs from being lost. Since that time,
the trombonist and also The Herbie Nichols Project have recorded many of the songs.
However it is fair to say that none of the interpretations sound anything like the music
on The Happenings.
After over a half-century as a bassist, Buell Neidlinger has permanently returned
to his first instrument, the cello. He has had a long association with the brilliant reed
player Marty Krystall and they have collaborated on many projects including recordings
for their K2B2 label. Howard Alden, one of the top jazz guitarists since he first emerged

in 1981, is most closely associated with swing and straight ahead jazz but he recorded
Nichols’ House Party Starting and The Gig back in 1996.
Of the eight songs on The Happenings, only the title cut was ever recorded by Nichols
and that version was never released. Mostly composed during 1951-60, these originals
still sound futuristic. The program begins with a guitar-cello duet on Another Friend, one
of several Nichols waltzes on this set. “Herbie was the American waltz king in his own
way,” says Neidlinger. “On the second version, I tried to channel Edgar Lustgarten, a cellist
who played with everyone (including Roger Kellaway’s Cello Quartet). Edgar was the
reason I was so successful in Hollywood. He recommended me to everybody.” The cellist
plays the theme (with Alden adding bass notes) and the guitarist takes an inventive solo.
The second rendition, which closes this release, has Neidlinger getting a slightly different
sound on the cello by putting a mute on his instrument’s bridge.
The Happenings, which is basically a blues (but with the final two bars altered a bit) has
a late-1940s New York sound, an infectious melody, and a light but solid swing. Listen to
Neidlinger’s percussive bowing behind Alden’s solo and the playful interplay between bass
clarinet and cello.
“Howard is a jazz master,” says Neidlinger. “No one plays the guitar like him.”
The fascinating Valse Macabre is much more advanced. The intriguing interplay
between the musicians at times hints at Bach and Lennie Tristano without really
sounding like either.
After a lengthy solo introduction by Alden on his seven-string guitar, Old 52ND Street
Rag becomes a playful romp with an old-time feel. It recalls Nichols’ many years performing
in Dixieland groups although it is fair to say that none of those groups sounded quite
like this one. Krystall’s lively bass clarinet is a particular delight.
He passed away in 1963 from leukemia when he was just 44.
Buell Neidlinger, who might be the only musician to have performed with Cecil
Taylor, Igor Stravinsky and Frank Zappa (among countless others) during his wideranging
career, knew Herbie Nichols during his later years. “I played a lot with Herbie
during 1959-60 at a dump called the Riviera owned by an awful Dixieland drummer. A
lot of us used to stop by there to help Herbie who had to play The Saints Go Marching In
around 20 times a night; it was a bad scene. I also had a gig at the Van Rensselaer Hotel
in a trio with Bud Freeman and Dick Wellstood. Dick would sometimes send in Herbie as
his sub. Many times at four in the morning, we would listen to Stravinsky and Bartok in
my hotel room. Later when I sublet a loft from Roswell Rudd, Herbie came by frequently
and we played together many times. He always brought in his compositions on huge
music paper. Herbie never expressed his frustration with how his career had gone. He
was always sweet and kind.”
The picturesque One Twilight depicts early evening in New York City, a period when
the night’s events have not yet started. It is performed as a beautiful duet by Krystall on
alto flute and Alden.
Although The Bebop Waltz was never recorded by Nichols, Mary Lou Williams documented
it in 1951 as Mary’s Waltz. It has a quirky melody and an inventive solo by
Krystall on alto flute whose playing over the unusual chord changes sounds effortless.
Strange City is one of the high points of the set. Neidlinger explains, “It reminds
me of when one is on the road and you arrive at a new town, a strange city, with
streets that you’ve never been on and sounds that you’ve never heard. It is really how
the tune is too. It starts to go in one direction and then it goes in another.” The eccentric
musical journey is filled with unexpected turns with plenty of musical surprises
heard along the way.
Change Of Season is the most complex and freest piece of the date. Krystall humorously
remembers, “Howard is more of a traditional player, but we got him to play freer
than usual. Buell and I later joked with Howard that now he’s a free jazz guy and his
career is ruined!” This fascinating performance has a great deal happening throughout
and fits Buell Neidlinger’s description of the project as “Chamber Music of the New
Herbie Nichols would be amazed by what these three musicians have created
on The Happenings: his innovative music certainly deserves such inventive treatment.
– Scott Yanow

Produced by Buell Neidlinger
Recorded by Bill Levey at Studio Geisthaus, Freeland WA on June 21-22, 2013
Mixed, mastered, and laid out by Marty Krystall
Cover photo by Francis Wolff
Cello by Victor Gardener, Medford, Oregon, 1959
Howard Alden plays Benedetto guitars and d’Addario strings
Liner notes by Scott Yanow
Marty Krystall plays d’Addario reeds
This album is in loving memory of Roswell Hopkins Rudd Jr., 1935-2017



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