Nichols grew up in the San Juan Hill neighborhood of Manhattan, an area which produced fellow musicians Thelonious Monk and Denzil Best, among others. In his recent Monk biography, Robin Kelley notes that Nichols was an early supporter of Monk, championing his music in his column for the black-owned weekly New York Age. Nichols was present at the creation of bebop, serving as the house pianist at Monroe's Uptown House during the late 1940s, one of the crucibles of the new jazz.
Though he did not get many opportunities to record his own music (he had to support himself playing Dixieland gigs), Nichols did record a number of sides for Blue Note during the mid-1950s, which have since been rereleased as a box set and are excerpted below. Sadly, Nichols died of leukemia in 1963, depriving the world of a unique talent whose music has since been championed by many of the significant avant garde musicians of the 1960s. These Blue Note tracks are your listening assignments for today. Special thanks to YouTube user leonocusto2009 for uploading these tracks.
Finally, below is Billie Holiday singing Lady Sings The Blues, to which Nichols composed the music, on the 1950s television special The Sound of Jazz, featuring solos from Ben Webster and Lester Young, among others: