Red Nichols & His Orchestra recorded ten obscure titles for Varsity in 1937 and then extensively for Bluebird in 1939, with four songs for Okeh in 1940. The Bluebird and Okeh dates have been reissued in full on this CD and it is quite a mixed bag. Many of the songs are saddled with Bill Darnell's vocals and some are just straight dance music rather than jazz. The only notable musicians in Nichols' outfit were pianist/arranger Billy Maxted and (in 1940) clarinetist Heinie Beau. However, there are some fine performances along the way, including Nichols' "The King Kong," "Davenport Blues," a swinging version of Henry Busse's "Hot Lips," "Poor Butterfly," "Overnight Hop," and Nichols' theme of the period, "Wail of the Winds." There is also a small-group session by the Five Pennies, although only "My Melancholy Baby" is a standout. But overall, the Red Nichols band was overshadowed by the many other more original jazz orchestras and they did not survive 1940.
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AllMusic Review by Scott Yanow