Geoff Nichols obituary

Other lives: Jazz trumpeter who led a Bristol band for 50 years

My father, the jazz trumpeter Geoff Nichols, who has died aged 86, led the Avon Cities Jazz Band in Bristol for 50 years. He wrote and arranged for the band, which had its origins in the British trad revival of the early 1950s but went on to develop a distinctive progressive sound with an unusually wide-ranging repertoire – not only tunes from the American songbook, but also skiffle, blues, arrangements of the Beatles and others.

Many Avon Cities numbers featured Geoff’s inventive and soaring solos, winning him regard as one of the leading jazz trumpeters in the country. The band recorded with a number of different labels and appeared at jazz venues all over Britain and internationally, including regular slots at the 100 Club on Oxford Street in London. For years (1969-78) they were the resident band at the Granary in Bristol city centre, where they attracted a large and loyal audience and played with such luminaries as Charlie Shavers, Bud Freeman and Buddy Tate.

Geoff was funny and exacting, charming and sceptical, a thinker and reader and generous doubter. Born in Bristol, he was the son of Richard Nichols, a sales representative for the Co-op, and Violet (nee Poole), a teacher of singing and piano; his older brother, the playwright Peter Nichols, later portrayed their home milieu and eccentric father in Forget-Me-Not Lane and other plays.

Geoff met Mary Gilhespie when they were both 15; they married in 1955 and went on to have two children. It was also at the age of 15 that Geoff bought his first trumpet, and taught himself to play; his mother had given him piano lessons.

After Bristol grammar school he went to Redland teacher training college to study music and education. He first taught English and music at Speedwell secondary school in Bristol, then at South Bristol technical college, while continuing to play music with friends. They formed the Avon Cities Jazz Band in 1949, with their first gig the same year at a Bristol pub.

In 1977 Geoff left teaching to open a jazz record shop and later moved to a premises shared with an ironmonger’s. It turned out that turps and nails sold better than Coleman Hawkins, and so he ended up also running the ironmonger’s, alongside his music career.

In the early 1980s he began composing classical music for piano and other instruments, as well as settings of poems by Bertolt Brecht, Thomas Hardy, Edward Thomas and William Blake. These were performed at various venues, at home and abroad. In the 90s he formed his own four-piece band, Geoff Nichols’ Good Vibes, in which he played the vibraphone in addition to trumpet.

In 2001 he and Mary retired to Minehead, in Somerset, where he was soon playing jazz with a new band.

Geoff is survived by Mary, me and my sister, Tessa, and by Peter.

Tom Nichols

The GuardianTramp

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