Livin’ the Life
With talent and a saxophone, Grady Nichols has remained one of the most in-demand musicians in the area thanks to a smooth and soft feel that blends R&B with jazz to create a refreshing sound.
Christmas is coming, and music is a focal point of the season. Carols and holiday music filter through the houses and businesses of the majority, and this year, music lovers can enjoy fresh music from a seasoned musician with loads of holiday magic to share.
Grady Nichols is more than your average musician: he’s an internationally renowned, award-winning pop and jazz saxophone player and family man. He has brought music and entertainment to crowds for over 20 years and is still going strong. Music is a strong part of who he is. “As long as I can remember, I’ve loved music,” Nichols says. “It touches the lives of so many people and brings everyone together. It’s been an incredible journey.”
Nichols was born in Siloam Springs, Ark., and lived on a farm. All his life he fostered a love for music, but the saxophone found its way into his heart in the sixth grade. He fondly recalls years of practice in which he loved writing his own music so much he spent a quarter of his practice time on what he was supposed to master and the majority on his own personal material. He spent hours outside practicing.
“I can’t remember a time without music. It’s just always been there,” Nichols says.
He moved to Tulsa, Okla. after graduating from John Brown University. Since then, he has made a name for himself in many venues of music, particularly jazz and pop, starting with his debut album Between You and Me in 1996. Albums released since then include Mysterious Intentions (1997), In the Fullness of Time (2001), Sophistication (2004), Take Me With You (2007), and Destinations (2012). He has opened for many legendary figures such as Luciano Pavarotti, Ray Charles, Jay Leno, The Temptations and William Shatner. He’s also performed with the Beach Boys, Wayman Tisdale, Roy Clark and many more, enabling him to become a seasoned and brilliant performer and writer.
Nichols’ talent has earned him a number of awards, including the Legacy Tribute Award from the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame in 2004, the Charlie Christian Jazz Music Award for Outstanding Achievements in 2005, and the Absolute Best of Tulsa Award for Jazz Musician in 2008. He has also received an Emmy nomination.
Performing and working with a wide variety of musicians has given Nichols a chance to work with some of the best in the industry and provided him with the incredible opportunity to grow as a musician. He lists some of his biggest influences as David Sanborn (his favorite saxophonist), as well as Jeff Lorber, Stan Getz, Joe Sample and Stevie Wonder. He is a huge fan of Chicago, particularly Bill Champlin.
“Sometimes I’ll buy something without knowing what it is, simply because it has Lorber’s name on it,” Nichols says of his longtime friend, who has produced much of Nichols’ music including songs on the Christmas album.
When asked what a typical weekend looks like for him, Nichols laughs. “It goes through seasons — there’s a cycle to the music business,” he says. “When you’re making an album, for example, there are press releases and album covers and promoting. There’s always something different happening, but you always want to be playing for someone. I also make sure to spend all the time I can with my wife and children. Family is very important to me.”
He says that he is always moving from one event to another, loving every moment of being onstage.
Nichols was quick to list his fans as the top reason he loves his career. “I can’t get over the fact that people come to hear you play. I think that it’s amazing,” he says. “At some point you still think, ‘this isn’t that great,’ and all those insecurities we all struggle with are still there. I think the most fun is seeing people who value what I’m doing enough to take their time to come, listen and let me play and entertain them.”
He loves nothing more than to feel the energy of the crowd as he performs; the passion they hold for his music fuels his shows.
Christmas is a busy time for Nichols, who has several performances scheduled alongside promotion for his new album, Falling in Love with Christmas. The Christmas season is near and dear to his heart, and for years he wanted to make his own holiday album. This year he sat down and composed or arranged the selected pieces, feeling that the time was right.
The album features a mix of original and classic Christmas songs in a range of styles as befits Nichols, who doesn’t fit his musical style into a box. His original track, “One More Christmas Song,” features Church on the Move’s Andy Chrisman in an upbeat, cheerful piece with that “feel-good” air. Traditional songs like “Winter Wonderland,” “Little Drummer Boy,” and “Angels We Have Heard On High” are marked with fresh, new takes straight from Nichols’ heart. He is thrilled to feature orchestral backdrops to several songs, weaving a tapestry of warmth and cheer of the Christmas season for all who enjoy his music. Falling in Love with Christmas is available on iTunes, as well as at Lifeway and Mardel.
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