He described growing up in Lansing, learning to play his horn by practicing outside in the summer, no shirt, playing, learning, memorizing "every song in every key," so he could one day turn professional and move to New York.
Nick's large physical presence complimented a robust, deep sound on his tenor sax, reminiscent of one of his primary influences, Coleman Hawkins.
The following clip nicely summarizes his career, as reported in the New York Times by Ben Ratliff:
"In the late 1940s, while maintaining a semi-regular presence at the after-hours sessions at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem, he also worked with some of the great formative bands of the decade, including those led by Earl Hines, Lucky Millinder and Dizzy Gillespie.
"Nicholas contributed a 16-bar solo to the African-Cuban jazz piece "Manteca," a 1947 recording by Dizzy Gillespie's group that remains one of the most important in jazz. (It was also while in Gillespie's band that he made an impression on a young John Coltrane, who would record an original piece called Big Nick on the 1962 album Duke Ellington and John Coltrane.)
"In the early '50s, Nicholas led his own group and organized jam sessions at the Paradise Club in Harlem.
"But it wasn't until the '80s that he made frequent appearances as a band leader in New York City. He had a full-fledged comeback then, releasing the first album under his own name in 1983 on the India Navigation label, and he appeared often as a band leader in Manhattan jazz clubs."
The above photo, from the cover of his 1985 LP, Big Nick, was taken by Beth Cummins.