John Nilsen keeps his concerts loose and spontaneous |

John Nilsen keeps his concerts loose and spontaneous

Pianist plays Park City on Saturday

Pianist and guitarist John Nilsen has performed in all 50 states and has toured Europe and Japan.

On Saturday, Aug. 26, Nilsen will play for one night at Shepherd of the Mountains Church, 4051 N. S.R. 224.

“It’s very special for me to go to a place like Park City,” Nilsen said during a phone call from Portland, Oregon. “I’m very aware of what that town has to offer. It’s a place where people care deeply about the community, and it shows.”

Nilsen, who has performed with and opened for such artists as David Foster and Kenny G., said he doesn’t decide what he’ll perform until he sits down to play a concert.

“I like having that untethered approach,” he said. “It keeps it spontaneous, because every situation, audience, room and piano is different.”

The pianist and guitarist does know that he will play a set that will feature a bit of folk, elements of jazz, classically inspired works and a little boogie-woogie.

“I feel like Santa Claus, because I can reach into my bag and pull out a bunch of different things,” he said “I’ll mix it up.”

Nilsen, who is also the founder of the folk-rock group Swimfish, started his musical journey with his mother.

“She has been a private piano teacher for 67 years, so, music was front and center in my house when I was growing up,” he said. “Myself and all of my siblings took piano lessons.”

While maintaining his piano skills, Nilsen started playing guitar when he was 14.

“That gave me two instruments to play,” he said. “I kept up on both, and now they make up my career, although most of my performing is done on piano.”

Nilsen started his professional career as a solo pianist in the early 1980s.

“I knew when I was a little kid, I think at 7, that I was going to be a musician and make it work,” he said. “I know every kid has dreams and aspirations, but I got lucky.”

The pianist was offered a recording contract when he was 26, and he founded his own record label, Magic Wing, in 1986.

He is currently working on his 20th album.

“Music was something that I have been very passionate about, and I’ve never lost sight of it,” he said.

Nilsen said maintaining his musical goals was easy for him.

“It all felt natural to me, and I know that’s a very cliché answer, but it’s the truth,” he said with a laugh. “Yes, I had to be diligent, but most of the time it was just about playing music, even during rehearsals.

“There is a high element of enjoyment playing music, and I never had to separate that from going outside to have fun with my buddies.”

Nilsen believes his work ethic came from his mother.

“My siblings and I had to practice before going outside,” he said.

In addition to a strong work ethic, Nilsen has a relentlessly creative mind.

“I have talked with a many people who have told me that they used to play guitar or play piano, but ran out of ideas,” he said. “I understand that, yet, the other side of me doesn’t, because, I, personally, have way more ideas than I can ever nurture and develop into

“Since it does take a lot of time to take an idea and work it until it’s a song that you can play in front of a couple hundred people, I never can get to the bottom of the well of ideas. By the time I get done with a song, there are a few others that are waiting or some that have come to be. I never can get to all of them.”

Nilsen will be selling copies of his new Swimfish album, “Local Ocean,” at the Park City concert.

“That record is a guitar and vocal band record, and more folk and rock, which is something that is completely different than what I’m going to do in Park City,” he said.
“But I will definitely have copies at the show.”

John Nilsen will perform at 7 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26, at Shepherd of the Mountains, 4051 N. S.R. 224, For information, visit