The pursuit of happiness: Meet Jack Nickalls



Every month, I will be profiling an extraordinary human being who lives in our community. If you know someone who is doing something interesting with their life or has an inspiring story to share, I want to hear about it. Send me an email at [email protected]

Jack Nickalls doesn’t have a crystal ball that will show him what the future holds, but he believes in the possibility that he can truly be happy in life no matter what he does.

“I think I can be happy as long as I surround myself with good people and positive experiences,” he says.

Apparently, this teenager has a better grasp on the necessary ingredients for a good life than some people do who are twice his age.

Jack is an aspiring musician. He’s also expanded his resume to include singer/songwriter, which has been somewhat of a natural progression for this creative Huntsville native. But he might tell you music isn’t the only thing that defines who he is.

He’s got an innocence about him that can only be acquired by someone who has been raised by loving and level-headed parents. (Obviously this is true. Back in 2016, his father Grant was featured as Huntsville Doppler’s extraordinary person. His mother, Deb, is a long-time kindergarten teacher at Riverside Public School.)

He’s also got an undeniable boyish charm but there’s something old soul about him, too. It’s how he speaks: softly and eloquently and with purpose. And he carries himself with the kind of cool confidence that seems easy and natural. The teenage girls would probably all concur that Jack’s a real sweet guy. And rounding him out to be the complete package is that he truly does have brains. This musician is an honour roll student at Huntsville High School.

Jack Nickalls is brains and talent all rolled into one. This Huntsville musician will be performing at the Muskoka Jazz Festival this summer with his long-time friend Josie Robinson.

Jack Nickalls is brains and talent all rolled into one. This Huntsville musician will be performing at the Muskoka Jazz Festival this summer with his long-time friend Josie Robinson.

Music has always been there. In his life in some way or another. His dad played the guitar and sang and taught Jack the basics when he was about nine. It wasn’t just listening to music that had huge appeal. He loved to watch videos.

“Watching someone play the guitar has always been cool to me,” he says. “And I liked the idea that you can do that if you have the time… You could learn whatever you wanted to if you practiced. I remember when I was younger I listened to Michael Jackson over and over again. I don’t think I actually ended up learning any of his songs but I was totally set on the fact that you can play the songs you listen to or you can make your own music.”

As he got a bit older, Jack’s love for music only grew. He started taking lessons from Huntsville’s own singer/songwriter Tobin Spring and that opened another door for him. It gave him a new skillset of confidence and determination. After all, he was learning from someone he totally admired.

Having the love and support of his parents has been a driving force behind Jack believing the sky’s the limit when it comes to what he can do with his life.

Jump ahead a few years. Jack got more serious and has planted his foot firmly in the local music scene. He’s also learned so much just from being an eager music student at the high school. He would have never learned how to play the bass and he would have never learned to read sheet music.

Being a literate musician is an important skill to have. Whether you want to be part of a symphony or you want to be a jazz musician, I think it’s necessary. It’s like furthering your education as a musician.

At such a young age, Jack has already got to experience the thrill of performing in front of a large audience. He’s taken the stage at the Algonquin Theatre with Stevie Jewel and he was also involved in the Rock of Ages production. He’s done shows in Parry Sound, Midland and Barrie. Last year, he was involved in the high school’s Song Project and got to play at the Mill on Main as well as at the theatre. There’s no better feeling than playing for your hometown. Jack’s been a highlight at a house concert and he’s also been an invited guest at the highly popular Etwell Concert Series.

You always want to do your best but if you do mess up it’s not the end of the world. Everyone who is watching is human too. And if you do make a mistake it’s probably best to try not to make it obvious. When I’m playing I close my eyes. It helps me focus and feel the music. If you’re enjoying what you’re doing people are going to pick up on that.

Anyone who has seen the videos of Jack circulating on Facebook and other mainstream media outlets will notice that he is often accompanied by long-time friend Josie Robinson. These two talented teenagers, who have known each other since public school, make beautiful music together. And there’s just something about her voice that complements Jack’s entire presence. (Check them out on Facebook here.)

What’s stirring all kinds of excitement is that he and Josie were recently asked by Tom Palloway of Headlite Canada to perform at the Muskoka Jazz Festival on August 24. This, says Jack, is a big deal, and not just because jazz is his favourite genre of music. It will be there that they get to share the stage with big-name Jazz masters like Lorne Lofsky, Molly Johnson and Luis Gonzales Deniz.

(Above, top) Getting the chance to perform with renowned musician Stevie Jewel at the Algonquin Theatre was quite a rush. (Above, bottom) the Caf Jam he’s actively part of at Huntsville High School.

The road winds and sometimes you can end up where you least expect to. The thing about Jack is that his open mind will likely be the reason he succeeds at whatever he does but he’s not quite sure what that may be. He knows that he’s still young and that the world is big and there’s so much that he wants to do and see. He doesn’t want to limit himself to only making music because you can do more than one thing with your life and be happy. Thinking about “all of the other possibilities” is exciting to him.

“Having a family is very important to me and that’s something that’s hopefully a no-matter-what. Whatever I do I just hope I’m happy.”

Jack spends a lot of time practicing on his electric guitar in his Huntsville home. His parents were the ones who first heard him sing and encouraged him to keep at it.

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  1. Kudos, Jack!: I heard you at The Song Project; and you are, indeed, very talented. Please get a print of the pic at the head of this article (totally Dylanesque, and a potential album cover). The title of the article is also serendipitous; as Pursuit of Happiness were/are a terrific group. It would make a great title for the projected album (if it’s not copyrighted). I totally understand you closing your eyes as you feel the music: so does your mentor, Tobin.
    I hope that you’ll be able to combine your education with your music career. Colleges and universities are always booking acts (or you could pursue the technical side of music at Humber College). You’ll always have the blessing of your music; but post-secondary education gets easier and easier to postpone, the longer you delay.

  2. John A MacDonald on

    Talent is important. Work ethic is important. When you combine those things with someone who is a pleasure to work with it spells success in any endeavour. Jack is all of this. Congrats Jack.

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