Ryan Nielsen

"Breathtaking . . . tremendous instrumental skill . . . outstanding creativity." Jazz Icon John McNeil

Trumpet Artist Ryan nielsen

Praised for the “breathtaking singing quality of his sound, tremendous instrumental skill, and outstanding creativity" by jazz icon John McNeil, Ryan Nielsen's artistry grows out of a love of groove, spirit, and beautiful melody. He has deep roots in both classical and jazz music and a penchant for thrilling musical risk taking. 

Nielsen grew up in a musical home. His father, Kendell, is an award winning music educator, and his mother, Elaine, is an accomplished collaborative pianist and Barry Manilow aficionado.  A family trip to New Orleans at the age of 10 nurtured the seeds for a lifelong love of music when his dad took him into a music store and asked if there were any local trumpeters his trumpet-playing son might want to hear. The result was the purchase of an album by Wynton Marsalis (recommended by the salesperson), and two other albums recommended by Nielsen’s father: one by trumpet great Doc Severenson, and the other by jazz great Herbie Hancock. By age 17, Nielsen began performing professionally, often alongside his brother, pianist Justin Nielsen. He has since been a guest artist at concerts and festivals throughout the United States, including the Gene Harris Jazz Festival, the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, the Sun Valley Jazz Festival, the Salt Lake City Jazz Festival, and the Charlotte Jazz Festival. 

While music was always a part of him, learning the trumpet did not come easily for Nielsen. His attempts at learning the instrument were transformed by studies with a brilliant pedagogue at Boise State University — Marcellus Brown. While in Boise, Nielsen also studied with Sandon Mayhue and Brent Jensen, local jazz musicians whose artistry inspired a spiritual connection to the music that continues to shape Nielsen’s playing today. Later, as a graduate student at Arizona State University, he studied with world-renowned classical soloist and teacher, David Hickman, where he received the prestigious Doc Severinsen Fellowship for outstanding classical and jazz trumpet performance. While at Arizona, he also studied with jazz pianist Michael Kocour and composer Mike Crotty.

As much as he loved studying classical music, Nielsen knew he wanted to deepen his roots in  jazz. On a spur-of-the-moment whim, he decided to ask the great tuba performer and teacher, Sam Pilafian, to recommend a jazz teacher.  Without hesitating, Pilafian responded, "If you really want to figure jazz music out, you need to get with John McNeil."  That conversation pointed Nielsen to the New England Conservatory of Music, where he went on to receive his doctorate in jazz performance.  While in Boston, his primary mentors were John McNeil and Rakalam Bob Moses. He also studied for a time with jazz composer Ken Schaphorst, and with Tom Rolfs, principal trumpet of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. 

Nielsen has gone on to record and perform with many musical luminaries, including Jon Bishop, Rakalam Bob Moses, John Lockwood, Aryeh Koblansky, Clark Sommers, Harvey Mason, Corey Christiansen, Brent Jensen, Sandon Mayhue, the New York Voices, Kevin Mahogany, Brian Bromberg, Byron Stripling, Wycliffe Gordon, Conrad Herwig, Delfeayo Marsalis, John McNeil, and the internationally acclaimed Summit Brass. Most recently, he has been named trumpeter with the Kobie Watkins Grouptet, lead by renowned drummer Kobie Watkins. Watkins is  perhaps best known for his work with jazz legend Sonny Rollins, with whom he recorded and toured for nearly a decade. 

Nielsen’s musical interests are diverse. He has performed and recorded jazz, classical, folk, bluegrass, country, americana, pop, and experimental world music. His playing can be heard on "A Summit Brass Night," recorded by the Summit Brass, America's premier classical large brass ensemble. Other recordings include  “Weeds in the Wall," recorded with the band Sister and Brothers; “Out of Nowhere,” released on Jazz Hang Records; and “Divine Colors,” a suite of sacred music lead by his brother Justin. In 2017, Nielsen's collaboration with musical visionary Rakalam Bob Moses, Gift of Breath, was  released on Native Pulse Records, and was a recommended new release in the March volume of the New York City Jazz Record.  He also performed as a chamber artist at the 2017 Grand Teton Music Festival, hailed as one of the "top ten classical music festivals" by the New York Times. 2018 will see the release of the Kobie Watkins Grouptet's first album, Movement. 

Nielsen's love of teaching has garnered him a reputation as a passionate and inspiring advocate for music. He is as enthusiastic about teaching as he is about composing and performing. He is currently Associate Professor of Trumpet at Utah Valley University.


Photographer: Jeff Smith http://www.jeffsmithphotography.com

Musician: Ryan Nielsen with the Kobie Watkins Grouptet