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Greater Tulsa Reporter

Grady Nichols’ Passion for Music Makes Smooth Jazz Cool

Editor at Large


Grady Nichols will be the musical headliner at the Natura Wine and Jazz Festival Saturday, September 25, 2004.
Gates open at 3:00 p.m. Advanced tickets are $12 or $15 at the gate. 

The festival will be held on the scenic grounds of Natura Vineyards and Winery, located four miles east of Hwy. 75 off Hwy. 16.
Several of Tulsa’s finest restaurants will have booths at the festival.

Tickets and festival information can be obtained through the Natura Vineyards and Winery, by calling 918-756-9463, or online at www.naturawinery. com.

There’s just something special about Grady Nichols.
Maybe it’s that air of confidence that seems to envelop him.
Or his Hollywood good looks.

There’s just something special about his absolute erudition.
He is engaging. He is luminous. He is sophisticated.
He is the embodiment of cool.

It’s all there. His appearance. His deportment. His soul.
All the components of cool.

And then there is, of course, the sax.

The saxophone heightens, enhances, and elevates Grady Nichols’ level of cool.

The saxophone is, indeed, that something special that defines Grady Nichols.

Jazz aficionados from coast to coast have discovered in a short amount of time that Nichols and his saxophone are swaying rhythmically along the interpretive edge of “cool jazz.”

He lives in Tulsa and headlines jazz festivals around the country.
His fourth album, the recently released “Sophistication,” is pulling in plaudits and praise from jazz critics, on-line chat rooms, and big-city radio stations.

There is something special about Grady Nichols in the world of jazz, but at home, he is an everyday, God-fearing father of two, backyard-barbecuing husband, and advertising executive for television stations KOKI and KTFO.

He talks easily, casually, with a soft-spoken delivery, about growing up in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, choosing music over basketball, and producing magical sounds that can enchant and mesmerize.

There is a boyish charm about Nichols when he discusses his personal discovery of jazz, and a depth of maturity when he deliberates the essence of jazz.

As a youngster, Nichols was captivated by the sounds of the saxophone, even before he knew what the instrument was.
As a professional, Nichols has captivated listeners with his own unique sounds from a saxophone that he has artfully mastered.
Nichols, in the words of legendary jazz producer Jeff Lorber, is “the awesome new sax player for the millennium.”

With such a singular salute, it is notable that Nichols was virtually self-taught at the outset.

After picking up his first sax while a sixth-grader, Nichols studied the techniques and stylings of jazz greats by video-taping their television appearances and replaying their performances, sometimes frame-by-frozen-frame.

Slowly, deliberately, he examined their fingering, their mannerisms.

Unable to find jazz recordings in Siloam Springs, he begged rides to Fayetteville. He wrote television stations in Tulsa soliciting names and song titles of music he heard on late-night programming. Even The Weather Channel was a source. Musical interludes between climatic segments introduced young Nichols to a wide repertoire of jazz selections.

By the time he entered high school, he had lost interest in sports, notably basketball, and had signed up for band, and particularly jazz band.
In the band room, Nichols recalls, “We were reading our first chart, ‘Chameleon,’ a Herbie Hancock piece, and when we got to the solo part, it was blank. Just blank. I asked our band instructor, Keith Rutledge, ‘what do you play here?’

“He said, ‘Anything you want.’

“Wow, I thought, now that’s pretty cool. I thought, you know, you don’t have that kind of freedom in sports. But in jazz, it’s whatever you want to do. That really did it for me.”

Nichols enrolled at hometown John Brown University partly for the music, but more for the business of communications and broadcasting.

He took every music course available, formed a jazz band, began playing campus concerts, and eventually developed a following.
Upon graduation in 1994, he turned his attention to Tulsa, where relatives lived, and took a position in advertising, which he still holds.

But it was music that was his passion. His day job enabled him to pursue that dream.

The day job was important. Jazz venues in Tulsa are almost non-existent. His band, Moment’s Notice, earned a few bookings; just enough to introduce Nichols to Tulsa.

In 1996, he took his first step toward expanding his musical horizons. He recorded his first compact disc, “Between You and Me.” It was a worthy calling card.

A second CD, “Mysterious Intentions,” followed the next year.
Grady Nichols was becoming something special.

The two CDs were reaching audiences beyond Tulsa, beyond Oklahoma. They were receiving airplay nationally. Nichols was receiving invitations to play prestigious jazz festivals.

By the time Nichols put together his third project, a spiritual CD entitled “In the Fullness of Time,” released in 2001, he had become a star in Tulsa’s fabulous musical galaxy. He was yet another of Tulsa’s musical gifts to the world.

Earlier this year, his latest project, “Sophistication,” vaulted him into the upper ranks of jazz stardom.

To some, Nichols’ ascension would appear quick, meteoric.
To Nichols, it is merely a natural progression.

“I just set out to make music,” he says in the quiet, almost unassuming manner that is his trademark.

“I’m trying to put music out there that enhances peoples’ lives, music that when they play, they smile, and it makes them think of a good memory, or they are making good memories,” he said.

“People gravitate toward music where there’s real passion.”
And Nichols, certainly, brings passion to his art.

The passion radiates throughout his “Sophistication” CD, from the sultry to the shimmering.

And the passion surfaces in his voice when he talks.

“I listen to a lot of vocalists when I listen to music,” he says. “The whole idea to me of playing the sax is you don’t want to sound like another sax player. You want to sound like a vocalist. Like a singer.

“So, if I could sing, this is how I would sing. That’s my approach to playing.”

And Nichols’ instrumental approach to playing jazz is working for a lot of people.

“We’re smooth jazz,” he replied when asked to describe the genre.
“I think, unfortunately, the word ‘jazz’ turns a lot of people off. I think when people think of jazz, they automatically think of be-bop, or swing.

“Yes, that’s one part of jazz, but this is a much more accessible form. It’s really pop instrumental music is what it is. It uses elements of jazz in that we improvise and we change things around and we never play the same way twice.

“But it’s just instrumental pop, minus the vocals.

“You know, everybody has to put something in a category, or label it, and so that’s the label we’ve been given. Smooth jazz.”

Jazz by any name is smooth, is cool, when it is in the hands of someone special. Someone special like Grady Nichols.

Updated 08-26-2004

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