John Nilsen was born in Seattle, Washington in 1956. The Nilsen family moved to Portland, Oregon in 1960. Nilsen began studying classical piano from his mother at age six. Continuing his musical education, he began playing guitar at age fourteen. An accomplished pianist, guitarist, songwriter, lyricist and vocalist, Nilsen was chosen to be a Deering Banjo Artist in 2016.
Nilsen splits his performances between touring nationally as an in demand pianist with a national presence, performing with the John Nilsen Trio, featuring Jeff Leonard/bass and Jason Moore/percussion and which has toured internationally.