Catching up with Grady Nichols
From his early years as a jazz saxophonist Tulsans began following at local and area venues starting in the 1990s, Grady Nichols has since become one of the most sought after performers in the country, whether onstage with Kirk Whalum, The Beach Boys, Roy Clark, Jay Leno, Kevin Eubanks, Dave Benoit, Huey Lewis and the News, and Ellis Marsalis, from Tulsa, to Indiana, Texas, Kansas, Nevada to Washington and California. His music has been featured on The Weather Channel, Coca Cola, Black Entertainment Television, the Muppets from Outer Space soundtrack, the Oasis Smooth Jazz Awards Collection; a Livin’ the Life Specialty CD for Beautiful Brands International; Coca Cola, the Sounds of Sophistication CD for Renaissance Hotels; in addition to his own popular CDs, including his sixth, “Destinations,” released this summer.
TulsaPeople gets the lowdown from the busy musician about “Destinations “ (which features such compositions as, “Tulsa”; and “London Baby!,” his first single receiving enthusiastic airplay on online Smooth Jazz Radio), to his upcoming Tulsa area summer performances, including the Tulsa Freedom Festival at RiverWest Festival Park on July 4.
I understand you have some big news about a brand new CD. Congratulations! Tell us all about “Destinations” — your first concept of it, the first track recordings, mixing sessions, how long it took to complete, and final production.
I have been fortunate to work with some great producers on previous CDs and each time I want to build on the previous project, but also change it up a bit, so I am always keeping my music fresh. When I started planning the new CD, I looked up Chris Rodriguez. I’ve been a big fan of his for a long time. He is an artist, producer, songwriter, performer, musician, former label executive — he just brought so much to the table.
After a long conversation with him about my goals, direction, etc., everything fell into place. I went to Nashville and spent several days writing with him. I came back home and continued to hone the song ideas we started. We sent files back and forth, texted, emailed and finally came up with songs that we felt were really strong. Then I started rehearsing the new material with my band. They also brought a lot of ideas and new interpretations. After a several rehearsals, we loaded up our gear and headed to the studio to track. That took about a week and we came home and continued to overdub, fix a few things, etc. Then I went back to Nashville and mixed with Chris. Overall it probably took about a year from songwriting to final mix.
Do you have any favorites from “Destinations”?
I love all of them and love playing them live. A couple that really stand out are “Walk Thru My Dreams” and “Superman.” “Walk Thru My Dreams” is really melancholy and I love the change of mood. I’ve always been a big fan of Superman so it was fun doing a tribute to that character.
Share your thoughts about the “Tulsa” track on the CD.
I love Tulsa. Tulsa has been really good to me. I have had some great opportunities — such as opening for Ray Charles, Pavarotti, The Beach Boys — that came as a result of being based out of the Tulsa market. I wrote the song “Tulsa” as a tribute to this city that has given me so much. When I wrote it, I wanted to capture the elements of the Tulsa sound. We have an interesting melting pot of music: country, rock, R&B, Latino and I wanted to bring in a little of those elements into the song.
Also, congratulations about the “London Baby!” track that is currently popular on Smooth Jazz Radio. How and when did that happen?
I have worked with Jason Gorov of "All That Jazz" on two of my previous CDs and really respect his opinion of the interest and needs of radio programmers. After we finished mixing "Destinations," I sent him a copy and he loved it. He felt my music had a lot of potential at radio and thought “London Baby!” would be the strongest first single. So I took his advice and mailed it out. We went for adds in March. It was the "Most Added" on several charts the first week and it is still going strong.
How do your own original compositions on “Destinations” compare to your songs on your previous CDs?
I’ve been fortunate to work with producers who are also songwriters on my last three CDs. That has given me the opportunity to co-write with them and those collaborations have resulted in some strong songs. I feel writing my music gives me a unique voice. I’ve also covered a few tunes on the last two CDs. Because I love a lot of different styles of music and on "Destinations," I also took the opportunity to re-record some of my favorite songs such as Journey’s “Faithfully.” I have performed that in concert for a while and it is always a crowd favorite, so I wanted to include it for the fans who have requested it in concert. I also covered Keith Urban’s “Only You Can Love Me This Way.” My producer, Chris Rodriguez, toured with Keith for a while and we both loved this song and had an idea of an instrumental version.
I understand you are appearing at Tulsa’s Freedom Festival during the July 4 holiday weekend? What can Tulsa and Green Country expect to hear at that performance?
A little of everything. My music is predominately smooth jazz/pop with a little R&B, adult contemporary, country, rock, etc. thrown in the mix.
Are you on tour at the moment, or do you have any tour plans for the summer months?
I love performing and tour every chance I get.
Besides Freedom Fest, will you be performing in and around Tulsa this summer?
The Freedom Fest is in Owasso, but I’ll be performing at Utica Square in August; Jazz in the Plaz in September; Wine, Eats, and Easels in Broken Arrow in October, and The Tulsa Run in October.