Tributes paid to Ilford jazz legend Keith Nichols, who died from Covid

Keith Nichols, legendary musician and teacher specialising in early jazz, died aged 75 after contracting Covid-19. 

Keith Nichols, legendary musician and teacher specialising in early jazz, died aged 75 after contracting Covid-19. - Credit: Michael Johnson

Friends and colleagues of legendary jazz musician and historian Keith Nichols have paid tribute to the multi-instrumentalist raconteur who was "loved by all".

Keith died on January 20, aged 75, at the Royal London Hospital and it is believed he contracted Covid, following complications of a delayed prostate surgery.

He was born in Ilford and lived with his wife Eve in Redbridge until his death.

Born in 1945, Keith started out as a child actor and after his parents pushed him to play the accordion he became the Under 13 Accordion Champion of Great Britain in 1958.

His real passion was for the piano and trombone and, after abandoning the accordion, he become a highly-respected jazz pianist specialising in early jazz music from the 1920s and 1930s.


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After graduating from the Guildhall School of Music in 1967, he joined The Levity Lancers - a group specialising in hot jazz and comedy. 

Keith performing at St Peter's Church in Aldborough Hatch. 

Keith performing at St Peter's Church in Aldborough Hatch. - Credit: Kate Lovesey

He went on to form the Midnite Follies Orchestra and The Cotton Club Orchestra and and was a long-standing teacher at the Royal Academy of Music.

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In 2004, Keith was given the Jazz Heritage Award from the BBC, along with Richard Pite and Martin Wheatley.

Richard said Keith was a "supremely gifted musician" who "always conveyed the sheer pleasure of making music".

Keith was known for his outsize personality and loved recounting humorous stories of his time working with legends such as Fats Waller and Bing Crosby. 

Keith was known for his outsize personality and loved recounting humorous stories of his time working with legends such as Fats Waller and Bing Crosby. - Credit: Kate Lovesey

Former Redbridge Mayor Barbara White, who knew Keith for more than 40 years, said: "He was always full of enthusiasm and was always welcoming.

"He had a very humorous way of performing and he introduced a lot of young people to very early jazz.

"He had so much more to give."

Digby Fairweather, who founded The Jazz Centre and recorded three albums with him, remembered that Keith was very helpful and encouraging to him when he first started out.

He said: "He had an outsize personality and over the years he became the central figure in the celebration of jazz music from the 20s and 30s."

Keith performed at St Peter's Church in Aldborough Hatch on three occasions in recent years and delighted the crowd with anecdotes of his time on the road with people like Fats Waller and Bing Crosby.

Rev Kate Lovesey said: "He was a lovely man and he even got the most reticent singing and foot tapping, even dancing.

"It's sad that he is yet another victim of Covid."

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