Don Sickler was born on January 6, 1944, in Spokane, Washington. He began his love affair with music at a young age. His mother was an accomplished teacher on accordion and piano, and she started him on both instruments at the age of four. At age five, he wrote his first composition; it  was published in one of his parents’ “Sickler Accordion Course” books. Don took up the trumpet at the age of ten and two years later formed his own jazz combo. His talent continued to develop; at age thirteen he led his own nine-piece band, playing for school and college dances. Don received his Bachelor’s Degree from Gonzaga University, then decided to further his career and studies in New York City at the Manhattan School of Music, where he received his Master’s Degree in Trumpet Performance in 1970. During this time, he also played commercially, subbing on Broadway and playing in show bands and commercial jobs. He also played with NYC rehearsal bands, including one led by arranger Gene Roland, and played in jazz lofts with several small groups. Don’s academic background from Gonzaga, his entrepreneurial spirit, and his experience selling his father’s music engraving led him away from a playing career in commercial music toward music publishing. After starting at E.B. Marks Music as music editor, he soon became managing editor, moving up to Production Manager of the Print Division at United Artists Publishing a few years later. There, his personal mission was to develop their large jazz holdings. He managed the Print Division (Big 3 Music), but soon discovered that United Artists’ publishing companies owned the music that had shaped much of his early musical life, from jazz labels like Blue Note Records and Pacific Jazz Records. Ultimately, Don became disillusioned by the lack of priority given to jazz in the corporate world, and in 1978 he left to begin his own publishing companies: Second Floor Music (BMI), Twenty-Eighth Street Music (ASCAP) and Minor Second Music (SESAC). These full-service music publishing firms continue to flourish today and now publish the works of over 400 jazz composers including Hank Mobley, Kenny Dorham, Bobby Timmons, Gigi Gryce, James Williams, Bobby Watson and many, many others.

Don Sickler’s Big Break

Don Sickler

Trumpeter, producer and publisher Don Sickler 

After a seven-year hiatus following his graduation from Manhattan School of Music, Don Sickler resumed his performing career in 1978 with a gig alongside his longtime hero, drummer Philly Joe Jones. This began a seven-year collaboration between the two. Being able to work and record with Philly Joe, one of jazz’ greatest drummers, was instrumental in bringing opportunities to work and record with many other great drummers, such as Art Blakey, Billy Higgins, Roy Haynes, Ben Riley and Charli Persip, as well as many of the great established younger drummers—and of course, many great jazz artists on every instrument. In 1982, Don Sickler played with Philly Joe in his all-star tribute band to the great Tadd Dameron, “Dameronia,” with transcriptions and arrangements by Don. The group continued to perform until Philly Joe’s death in August of 1985. Dameronia released two albums under Philly Joe’s leadership. Both albums were a critical and popular success in the jazz world. In 1989, as a tribute to both Tadd Dameron and Philly Joe, Dameronia did one more recording (under Don’s leadership).

During the early 1980s, Don Sickler made several album releases as a leader, all of which showed his continued passion for the music of his composers and his commitment to bringing beautiful jazz works into the public eye. His first release was 1983’s The Music of Kenny Dorham. It was Don’s first time to record with jazz legends Jimmy Heath, Cedar Walton, Ron Carter and Billy Higgins. In 1988 and 1989, Don recorded two albums, Superblue and Superblue 2, with some of the best young musicians on the scene—stars like Roy Hargrove, Mulgrew Miller, Ralph Moore, Wallace Roney, Renee Rosnes and Bobby Watson. Don’s most recent releases are 1990’s Night Watch and 2000’s Reflections, both of which introduced jazz fans to lesser-known gems from the Second Floor Music and Twenty-Eighth Street Music catalogs. In addition to his releases as a leader, Don has recorded as a sideman alongside many of the greatest jazz artists from Frank Wess to Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter to Christian McBride.

Beyond The Stage

Don’s arrangements have been recorded by many jazz legends including Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Woody Shaw and Jimmy Smith. In 1997 he arranged, co-produced as well as performed on Monk On Monk, a CD of Thelonious Monk compositions celebrating Monk’s 80th birthday year, which featured Herbie Hancock, Clark Terry, Wayne Shorter, Grover Washington and many others. Monk On Monk was DownBeat’s Album of the Year for 1998. He has frequently produced, arranged and performed in performance tributes to classic jazz masters such as Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Fats Navarro and Johnny Griffin, at the Jazz Standard in NYC.

Don has produced many jazz albums, including five Grammy award winners starting with Joe Henderson’s Lush Life (which won a Grammy in 1992), and several more Grammy-nominated CDs such as J. J. Johnson’s The Brass Orchestra.

In 1994 he was the music director for Verve’s 50th anniversary concert at Carnegie Hall.  He was also the Associate Producer for the acclaimed Jazz Icons DVD series. Don is the musical director of the yearly Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition for the Thelonious Monk Institute.

Don has been teaching at Columbia University since 1986, directing combos and big band, and also teaching trumpet and jazz arranging and composition. Just prior to that, in 1985, Don directed a jazz education program called Young Sounds, sponsored by Local 802 of the American Federation of Musicians, working with talented teenagers including Bill Charlap, Jon Gordon, Kevin Hays, Sean Smith, Taru Alexander and others, all of whom have gone on to prominence in the jazz world. In addition, Don has given master classes at New England Conservatory, Berklee School of Music, Eastman School of Music, Manhattan School of Music, the BMI Jazz Composers’ Workshop, the Thelonious Monk Institute, as well as other jazz schools.

Don continues to live and work in New York City today.