Bryan Nichols is a Minneapolis-based pianist and composer, working primarily in jazz and improvised music. He returned to the Twin Cities in 2005 after four busy years in Chicago where he played with jazz heavyweights like Nicole Mitchell, Ernest Dawkins, Von Freeman and Hamid Drake. Since returning to Minneapolis, he leads and composes for his own trio, his quintet and his large group, We Are Many. He also plays regularly with Gang Font, Kelly Rossum Quartet, James Buckley Trio, and Zacc Harris Quartet, in addition to being an in-demand freelancer. He teaches jazz piano at MacPhail Center for Music and University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire, and he was also recently named artistic director of Jazz is NOW!, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit supporting regional music and composers.
Bryan was awarded a 2010-11 McKnight Fellowship for Performing Musicians, a prestigious and competitive award given to Minnesota musicians. He was also awarded a 2004 residency by Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center, given to outstanding, emerging jazz performer/composers. His work as a composer earned him a subito grant from the American Composers Forum. He has performed at most music venues in the Twin Cities and Chicago, in addition to international festivals including Sons d’Hiver (Paris, France) and Kerava Jazz Festival (Kerava, Finland) as well as local and regional festivals including the Chicago Jazz Festival and the Minnesota Sur Seine Festival. Bryan appears on recent recordings by James Buckley, Gang Font, Chris Morrissey, Gordon Johnson, Kelly Rossum, Todd Clouser, Gayngs and many more. In May 2011 Bryan released his debut recording as a leader, Bright Places, containing nine original compositions for his quintet.
He is a member of a famous family of musicians that includes brothers Ricky (keyboards) and St. Paul Peterson (known as Paul, he is a bassist and multi-instrumentalist who worked with Prince), sisters Linda and Patty, and mother Jeanne Arland, pianist.
Billy Peterson cut his teeth on music at a very young age. He began singing national commercial spots at age 9 with his sister, Linda Peterson, and Len Dressler of the Singers Unlimited jazz vocal group. These recordings were made at the Kay Bank studios in Minneapolis, owned and operated by award-winning recording engineer Bruce Swedien. Billy grew up in a household of professional musicians. Being interested in "any instrument he could get his hands on" Billy studied drums with Elliot Fine of the Minnesota Symphony Orchestra while in junior high school. Simultaneously, he studied the keyboard with local CBS radio employee, Ernie Garvin. Billy's father, a jazz piano player, heard Monk Montgomery on electric bass in the mid-sixties and figured this was the future of the bass. He purchased a Kay electric bass and left it in their home studio to see if any of his children would be interested in it. Billy saw it and thought, "I need to learn how to play it."
His first musical endeavors were with his fathers' bands playing drums or electric bass in either small combos or big bands. At age 14 Billy had two life altering events happen to him. The first was when his mother, Jeanne Arland Peterson, taught him how to re-harmonize the old Irish lullaby entitled "Danny Boy" and arrange it for the ninth grade orchestra. The second was when Billy's father, Willie Peterson, left his friend's upright bass underneath the piano in their home studio. These early influences were the foundation for what was to follow. In 1967, when Billy was just 16 years of age, he was asked to join a summer tour with The Righteous Brothers. As he continued going to school, Billy played bass and drums in local orchestras, big bands, R&B bands and even toured with the Lawrence Welk show All Stars. After high school Billy started playing bass with trumpet-legend Clifford Brown's pianist, Billy Wallace, for a few years until 1973. Wallace would manuscript his piano voicings so that Billy could study and articulate them.
This same year Billy co-founded the internationally acclaimed band Natural Life. Natural Life recorded 3 albums for the Celebration Records label and made several tours in the US from 1973-1976. At approximately the same time, Billy was also one of the first musicians to record on 3M's new digital tape at Sound 80 recording studios in Minneapolis. In 1974 Billy met Leo Kottke, the great folk guitarist, and was the bassist on Kottke's three albums for Capitol Records and Chrysalis. In 1976 Billy was asked to join the Gibson guitar staff. This association allowed him the opportunity to conduct clinics and perform with guitar legends BB King, Johnny Smith, Lenny Breau, Les Paul, and the late Howard Roberts. It was also during this decade when record producer and engineer David Rifkin (aka David Z, who produced Prince in the 80's) introduced Billy to keyboardist Ben Sidran (Steve Miller Band, Rolling Stones). This musical partnership has remained strong to this day.
The late seventies and early eighties were totally consumed with music from all angles. He continued to tour Europe with various artists and was also the in-house bassist for the Sound 80 recording studio in Minneapolis. During that time he recorded many albums plus national radio and television commercials. His performances ranged from solo bass to playing with a full symphony orchestra.
In 1986 Ben Sidran was hired to produce an album for Steve Miller on Capitol Records. Ben immediately hired Billy to play bass on the recording. Steve Miller asked Billy to join the Steve Miller Band as his bassist. Billy toured with the Steve Miller Band from 1987 to 2000 during the spring and summer months. He also continued to tour Europe and Japan in the fall and winter months with Ben Sidran.
In 1990 Ben introduced Billy to the Go Jazz record label. Billy became a Go Jazz artist, staff producer and arranger. He worked on numerous recordings with Ben Sidran, pianist and vocalist Georgie Fame, guitarist Phil Upchurch and even a reunion with Leo Kottke for a project that Billy wrote a composition for called "Mid Air." Shortly after this time, The Artist formerly known as Prince asked Billy to create a string arrangement for the New Power Generation's dynamo maven, Rosie Gaines. He came up with a re-harmonization of Brian Adam's hit "Everything I Do I Do It For You". His original compositions, arrangements and re-harmonizations have been featured on other major record labels and throughout the Go Jazz catalogue. He played with Carlos Santana and Neil Young at the 1993 Earthquake Relief in San Francisco. He played with folk-singer/songwriter Pete Seeger on the Smithsonian Folkways recording Well May the World Go, which he also produced. He performs frequently with jazzers Mose Allison, Dave Leibman, Dewey Redman, Lew Tabakin, Slyde Hampton, Clark Terry, and feels fortunate to have performed with the late Harry "Sweets" Edison and the late Jack MacDuff and Benny Carter.