Sidran was raised in Racine, Wisconsin, and attended the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1961, where he became a member of The Ardells along with Steve Miller and Boz Scaggs. When Miller and Scaggs left Wisconsin for the West Coast and stardom, Sidran stayed behind to earn a degree in English literature. After graduating in 1966, Sidran enrolled in the University of Sussex, England, to pursue a PhD degree in American Studies.
Sidran rejoined Miller in an English recording studio the next year, playing on the album "Children of the Future." While in England, he was a session musician for artists that included Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Peter Frampton and Charlie Watts. After a brief stint in Los Angeles, where he began his career as a recording artist (teamed with Scaggs and drummer Jim Keltner) and record producer, Sidran returned to Madison in 1971 and has kept the university town as a home-base ever since, playing often with such Madison-based talents as drummer Clyde Stubblefield and keyboardist-composer Leo Sidran, Sidran's son. Over the years, while continuing to travel, perform and produce, he taught courses at the University (on the business of music) and, beginning in 1981, hosted a variety of jazz programs for NPR, (including the Peabody Award Winning "Jazz Alive" series) and for VH1 television (where his "New Visions" series in the early 1990s won the Ace Award.)
As a musician and a producer he has released thirty-four solo recordings and collaborated with jazz and pop artists that include Mose Allison, Van Morrison, Diana Ross, and Rickie Lee Jones. His written works include the book "Black Talk," (on the sociology of black music in America), the memoir "A Life in the Music," "Talking Jazz," a collection of his historic interviews with jazz musicians and "There Was a Fire: Jews, Music and the American Dream," a cultural history of the Jewish contribution to American popular music during the 20th century and a finalist for the 2012 National Jewish Book Award.
Sidran has been referred to by the Chicago Sun Times as a "Renaissance man cast adrift in a modern world," and by The London Times as "the first existential jazz rapper," in reference to his preferred mix of humorous, erudite commentary while playing grooves and bebop. He continues to lecture at Universities, most recently on the subject of "Jews, Music and the American Dream."
Talking Jazz" includes an eighty page booklet with essays from writers, critics and musicians, classic photos from Lee Tanner, and 24 compact discs featuring conversations with 60 jazz musicians, recorded during a five-year period for Sidran's award winning NPRprogram "Sidran on Record". The 24 CDs orchestrated by Sidran document the speaking voice of jazz musicians, including Miles Davis, Art Blakey, and others.