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Coltrane and "Big Nick" Nicholas—New information!
Bo Lindström is an excellent jazz researcher. He is the primary author, with input from Dan Vernhettes, of the book about trumpeter Tommy Ladnier. Also, Vernhettes with Lindström have published the Jazz Puzzle books, which offer groundbreaking new research on Buddy Bolden, Sidney Bechet, King Oliver, Freddie Keppard, and many others. So I was not surprised that it was Bo who brought my attention to a previously unknown connection between Coltrane and “Big Nick” Nicholas, whose relationship I wrote about earlier.
Here is what Bo wrote to me:
On Big Nick's recording of Coltrane’s song “Big Nick,” which you posted, Nicholas plays almost note for note Coltrane’s first solo from his version with Duke Ellington! This is not very easily heard since Coltrane plays the soprano and Big Nick plays tenor (with a rather harsh tone) and the tempo is somewhat different. However, I have mixed both recordings together, and after some tweaking of pitch (I lowered the soprano and raised the tenor) and tempos, you can hear both solos at once and can easily compare them. This reveals that Big Nick plays the Coltrane solo with some deviations in the middle, which suggests that he plays the solo from memory rather than reading from a notated transcription.
In other words, Nicholas took Coltrane’s tribute to him, and turned into a tribute to Coltrane! He recorded it in 1985, but he could have learned Coltrane’s solo at any point. It would be reasonable to assume that Nicholas played this at gigs sometimes as well.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about it is that this is not Nicholas’s musical language! He was a Coleman Hawkins protégé, and was never documented to have played these kinds of harmonically “in and out” lines except on this occasion. So it appears that his goal was not only to turn the tune back into a tribute to Trane, but to create an opportunity for him to study Coltrane’s musical approach. I talked last time about Big Nick’s interests in modern classical music, and mentioned that he introduced Coltrane to certain pieces of music. This recording is another indication of the breadth of Nicholas’s interests, a breadth that was not usually evident in his saxophone performances. As a saxophonist he was usually a very straight-ahead player. But not here!
You can hear the Coltrane and Nicholas recordings separately at my previous post. But here is Bo’s file, where you can hear Trane and Nicholas playing at the same time. They match up particularly well at 0:48 through about 1:30 or so, but it’s clear throughout that Nicholas is basing what he plays on Coltrane’s solo:
Pretty amazing! Thank you Bo Lindström!
All the best,
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