Born 6 January 1944, Spokane, Washington, USA.
As a very small child, Sickler studied piano with his mother who was a music teacher. At the age of 10, he took up the trumpet and two years later formed a jazz band. At the age of 13, he was leading an augmented band for school and college dances. Later, he began taking an interest in arranging.
He continued with his studies, and by the late 60s had so advanced in both aspects of his career, as performer and arranger, that he moved to New York where more studies followed, alongside which he played in theatre pit bands.
Throughout the following decade, although still active in music, it was in the publishing arm of the industry rather than as a performer. Eventually, he formed his own publishing company. Around the end of the 70s, he began performing more regularly, including a spell with Philly Joe Jones.
In the 80s, this association with Jones continued in Dameronia and he was also a member of the Thelonious Monk Reunion band. At the end of the decade he played with Art Blakey, for whom he also wrote arrangements, and began leading his own small groups, including the all-star Superblue.
Through the 90s he continued with his multiple activities, performing with Harold Danko, James Williams and Jaki Byard among many, and also being deeply involved in numerous tribute bands helping foster recognition and/or remembrance of artists such as Gil Evans, Howard McGhee, Hank Mobley, Elmo Hope, Kenny Dorham and Jackie McLean. In many instances, Sickler transcribed and arranged, and occasionally published their music. It was highly appropriate, therefore, that he should become involved as player, arranger and producer with T.S. Monk’s band in the early 90s. Sickler was also active as a record producer and as a teacher.
In this latter capacity, he has taught at the Brooklyn School of Music, Hunter College, and the Hartt School of Music. An accomplished hard bop trumpeter, it is as an arranger, and his manifold activities in the back rooms of music, that has helped make Sickler an important if relatively unrecognized figure in the jazz world. This last point is underlined, albeit a shade ironically, by the fact that he was voted as a Talent Deserving Wider Recognition in DownBeat in 1990 – and again in 1999. Rather more encouragingly, in 1998 readers of the same magazine voted T.S. Monk’s Monk On Monk, a set to which Sickler’s contribution was invaluable, as their choice for Jazz Album Of The Year.
Don’s experiences in performing and arranging, and his interest in publishing, made him want to develop jazz publishing in a way no other publisher was doing, so in 1979 he left Big 3 to form his own publishing companies – Second Floor Music (BMI) and Twenty-Eighth Street Music (ASCAP). These full service music publishing firms specialize in jazz music, allowing Don and his staff to work closely with jazz artists and their heirs in protecting and developing copyrights.
Thanks to talent, hard work, dedication and some great luck, Don has been able to combine his love of the trumpet and arranging and producing with his desire to further the cause of jazz music through publishing.
Awards and Honors
Winner TDWR Arranger 2000 Down Beat Critics Poll
Winner TDWR Arranger 47th Annual International Critics Poll Downbeat Magazine (1999)
Winner (in two categories) TDWR Arranger & Producer 46th Annual International Critics Poll Downbeat Magazine (1998)
2nd place TDWR Arranger 43rd Annual International Critics Poll Downbeat Magazine (1995)
Winner TDWR Arranger 38th Annual Critics Poll Downbeat Magazine 1990
7th place Arranger, 55th Annual Readers Poll, Downbeat Magazine, 1990
As a performer
Don has had the honor to record with many outstanding jazz artists including:
Jerry Dodgion, Kenny Garrett, Johnny Griffin, Jimmy Heath, Clifford Jordan, Jackie McLean, Ralph Moore, Cecil Payne, Bill Pierce, Bob Porcelli, Jerome Richardson, Clarence “C” Sharp, Wayne Shorter, James Spaulding, Grover Washington, Bobby Watson, Frank Wess and Willie Williams
Eddie Bert, Robin Eubanks, Carl Fontana, J.J. Johnson, Benny Powell, Steve Turre, Scott Whitfield, Britt Woodman, and Kiane Zawadi
Kenny Barron, Walter Davis Jr, Herbie Hancock, John Hicks, Duke Jordan, Ronnie Mathews, Mulgrew Miller, Freddie Redd, Renee Rosnes, Cedar Walton, and Richard Wyands
Ron Carter, Scott Colley, Ray Drummond, George Duvivier, James Genus, Dave Holland, Bob Hurst, Mark Johnson, Rufus Reid, Larry Ridley, Christian McBride, Peter Washington, and David Williams
Billy Drummond, Louis Hayes, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, “Philly” Joe Jones, Victor Lewis, Thelonious Monk Jr, Louis Nash, Ben Riley, Marvin “Smitty” Smith, and Kenny Washington
Larry Coryell, Mark Whitfield
Don has also performed on the concert stage with Art Blakey, George Coleman, Art Farmer, Tommy Flanagan, Curtis Fuller, Tom Harrell, Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Steve Lacy, Harold Land, Branford Marsalis, Wynton Marsalis, Charlie Rouse, McCoy Tyner, Buster Williams, and many others.
In addition to record producing, Don’s producer credits also include artistic director for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Competitions (1990 Trumpet, 1991 Saxophone, 1992 Drums, 1993 Piano & Composition, 1994 Vocal & Composition, 1995 Guitar, Bass & Composition, 1996 Saxophone & Composition, 1997 Trumpet & Composition, 1998 Vocal & Composition, 1999 Piano & Composition), 2000 Bass and Hand Drums & Composition, 2002 Saxophone, on up to the present day, under the Institute’s new name, The Herbie Hancock Institute Of Jazz.
In 1994 he was the music director for the Verve 50th Anniversary Concert at Carnegie Hall, also a PBS Great Performances broadcast.
In 1996 he produced and conducted the Jazz Foundation of America’s Town Hall benefit concert featuring jazz of the 1950s, as well as the 1997 celebration of jazz of the 1960s.
Don was the music supervisor for the acclaimed documentary telling “The Blue Note Story,” which was a 1998 Grammy award nominee.