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David Nichtern'71: "After Midnight"

 
  David Nictern '71

David Nichtern '71 still recalls the thrill of hearing the song he penned, "Midnight at the Oasis," come on the radio in his car for the first time back in 1974. Now, 31 years later, the song continues to have a life of its own and has entered the canon of the Great American Songbook. "Midnight" was a big hit for singer Maria Muldaur and others, has been licensed for film, and even for cell phone ringtones. It was also the launching pad for Nichtern's multifaceted career.

"The song has become a standard," says Nichtern. "It was recorded in 1995 by Brand New Heavies and was a top-ten hit all around the world-except in the United States. Ren?e Olstead just recorded the song on an album of standards produced by David Foster and it will be in a T-Mobile commercial this year. It also appeared on a new remix album that Warner Bros has released. Everywhere in the world that I go, people know that song."

Nichtern grew up in an arts-rich atmosphere as the son of Claire Nichtern, a Broadway producer who was the first woman ever to win a Tony Award. His uncle Irving Joseph was a celebrated pianist who played for Frank Sinatra, Tommy Dorsey, Lena Horne, and Rita Moreno. While Nichtern didn't plan on becoming a musician when he picked up the guitar at eight, he ultimately moved in that direction.

"After graduating from high school, I went to Columbia University as an English major and started playing electric guitar in bands," he says. "I was in a group called Voltaire's Nose with Christopher Guest [a.k.a. Nigel Tufnel]. Right after college, I started working as a musician, but after two years, I felt I needed more training, so I came to Berklee in 1970."

Having already earned a degree, Nichtern studied at Berklee for only one year, but feels he left armed with the information he previously lacked. He returned to New York and joined the burgeoning folk scene in Greenwich Village. "I was one of the better-known accompanists for various singers," he says. "I played live and made recordings. I began working as Maria Muldaur's guitarist and musical director and produced the demos that ultimately got her signed with Warner Bros. in 1973. They flew us out to Los Angeles to make her record; that was my first time stepping into the big music world. I played guitar and arranged some of the tracks on the record, which Lenny Waronker produced. He thought 'Midnight at the Oasis' would be a cute song to put on the album."

Nichtern, Muldaur, and Waronker found the song more than cute when it soared into the top-ten in 1974. However, after the album became a big seller, Nichtern didn't feel compelled to try to write another smash hit. "I have written many other good songs, but I didn't take the option of trying to just do the same thing over and over again," he says. "In 1975, I moved to the Bay Area to play with Jerry and the Great American Music Band [featuring David Grisman on mandolin, Jerry Garcia on banjo, Richard Green or Vassar Clements on fiddle, and Taj Mahal on bass]. After that, I did a lot of different things."

Nichtern subsequently worked as an instrumentalist, a record producer, a film and television composer, a teacher of Buddhism, and also did a stint as the sales director for New England Digital, makers of the innovative Synclavier synthesizer in the early 1980s. He has taken his interests in music, Buddhism, business, and technology and woven them all together into an eccentric tapestry.

Several years ago, he founded Nudgie Music LLC, an umbrella company that markets several lines of music and is the parent company to his Dharma Moon and 5 Points Records labels (visit www.nudgie.com). In addition to recently completing a new CD for Dharma Moon with his world-music-influenced band Drala, Nichtern is working with Krishna Das, who blends traditional Buddhist chants with Western-based melodies and harmonies. Last fall, Nichtern collaborated with bassist Walter Becker of Steely Dan and drummer Rick Allen of Def Leppard on a new album by Das. "It's a cross between rock and spiritual music," Nichtern says." The working title is Rock in a Heart Place.

"I'm currently producing a rock band from Toronto called Carnival Divine. They play classic, dark rock, and have really great songs. For 5 Points VIP, a private label, we are doing compilation CDs for companies like New York's Soho Grand Hotel to sell direct as part of their branding campaigns." Nichtern also produces Emmy Award winning music for the daytime TV shows One Life to Live and As the World Turns. He's been doing One Life to Live for about 13 years. "Somehow all of my different interests have fit together," he says.

Nichtern has arrived at his present musical oasis, if you will, by learning throughout his journey. "When I went to Berklee, all I learned was music," he says. "Now the college teaches everything, but I had to learn on the fly. Computer chops have become incredibly important. In the real world, it's a blend of music, business, and technical skills. If you want to have a music career as your livelihood, it is going to encompass all of these things. Even though the recording industry is in a panic and a downturn, I think this is a really exciting time to be in the music business.

"While I feel that it's still possible for someone to join in a big rock band and possess none of the other skills, for the average person wanting to be part of the music business, the broadest approach is the best. There are so many new avenues opening up. It is a good time to be clever and creative and mix technology and business together with the music. Those with real passion for what they do will find their place."