In 2001, on the heels of a successful seventeen year career in Investor and Public Relations, Donna Nichols changed direction and turned her considerable talents to the music business. Why? “Music has always been very important to me, it’s one of life’s greatest joys,” Donna revealed. When she met Bradley Leighton, the flutist/educator, he needed help jumpstarting his career so he turned to her. “It just seemed like a perfectly natural, totally organic fit. Even though I was new to the world of music, I had a lot of business acumen, so knew I could help him.”
Working at the top levels of the pharmaceutical, bio-tech and graphics industries, she gained invaluable experience managing people, coordinating events and marketing products. When she made the commitment to develop Bradley’s career, and launch a record label, Pacific Coast Jazz, she found that her skills were transportable. “Like anything, the music business is about relationships. Of course there was a learning curve but my persistence and attention to detail were really helpful in properly focusing my energy.”
Driven by her belief in Bradley’s talent, Donna made an important decision when she decided to start a label, that she would never settle for second best. “Because I worked, for so many years, with investment and health care professionals who refused to compromise quality in any situation, I knew that even though I was in a new business, that could not change.”
When Bradley was ready to record his first CD as a leader, 2003’s Groove Yard, Donna quickly found herself multitasking twenty four and seven, serving as Executive Producer, coordinating the production of the CD itself, creating and executing a marketing plan, interfacing with publicists, radio promoters, club owners and the press.
“Starting a new record label isn’t for the faint of heart,” she’s quick to explain, “especially these days. But if you really believe in the music, and enjoy interfacing with a diverse group of people, it can actually be fun.” Donna’s hard work paid off in the form of radio play, and a lot more performing opportunities for Bradley.
Although he had always given flute lessons, it was Donna who decided to put more emphasis on that aspect of his creativity in conjunction with his performing. “Bradley’s a natural teacher, he is just great with people because he has the unique ability to zero in on exactly what they need, and present it to them in an easy to understand way. Nevertheless, I knew he wanted to perform, first and foremost. But my intuition told me he could use his teaching to market his music. So we have developed a successful series of clinics he’s done over the past few years.”
A native of Seattle, Bradley was a relatively new arrival in San Diego and Donna recognized that he needed to build a new core local audience as the foundation for national exposure and eventual success. Under Donna’s supervision, as Bradley’s profile was elevated from his debut on Pacific Coast Jazz, he began a series of local appearances and quickly become a fixture on the San Diego scene, working at clubs and concerts, as well as leading jam sessions. Donna was also successful in developing a relationship with radio stations nationwide, garnering essential airplay long after Groove Yard was released to keep Bradley in the public’s ear.
“This is just the beginning,” she promises. “With everything I’ve learned, I’m anxious to help other artists as well.” However, there’s a caveat: “They must share our commitment to the highest professional standards. After all, the music deserves that.” And now, 14 artists later and several in the wings, it’s a real record label getting national attention. “We’re both very proud of that.”
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” – AESOP, The Lion & the Mouse.
On the Importance of Jazz:
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Opening Address to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, WPFW News (Washington), [23 August 2002]
“God has wrought many things out of oppression. He has endowed his creatures with the capacity to create—and from this capacity has flowed the sweet songs of sorrow and joy that have allowed man to cope with his environment and many different situations.
Jazz speaks for life. The Blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.
This is triumphant music.
Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.
It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by Jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.
Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.
And now, Jazz is exported to the world. For in the particular struggle of the Negro in America there is something akin to the universal struggle of modern man. Everybody has the Blues. Everybody longs for meaning. Everybody needs to love and be loved. Everybody needs to clap hands and be happy. Everybody longs for faith.
In music, especially this broad category called Jazz, there is a stepping stone towards all of these.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Opening Address to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival
Thanks to my friend Karin for bringing this wonderful speech to me to remember.