Nick Colionne — Featured Smooth Jazz Artist Archives (2018)

March 2018

Nick Colionne – The Personification of Big-Hearted Jazz

Guitarist Nick Colionne grew up in a household full of music – and, at age 9, he began to learn guitar from his stepfather, Edward. By the age of 15, he turned pro, touring all over the world with famous artists and bands. Because he was usually the youngest band member, he would sometimes paint a mascara moustache on his upper lip to make himself look older – so imagine his embarrassment when his grandmother attended one of his concerts and promptly wiped said moustache off with her ever-present handkerchief! Enter the question from that Southwest Airlines commercial: “Wanna Get Away?”

Colionne says, “Jazz was my upbringing, but initially pursuing a career as a sideman meant I had to become well versed in R&B, blues and heavy metal. Now when I play live, I incorporate all kinds of music and have a lot of fun. All of these styles have contributed to defining my own sound as an artist.” His charismatic stage presence, combined with his guitar virtuosity, are evidence he’s succeeded; audiences love the excitement and energy he brings to every performance – not to mention his cool-cat attire.

However, his mother, Juanita, wasn’t about to let her son get off without an education, so Colionne graduated from high school and went to college. The recipient of the 1996 Malcolm X College Alumnus of the Year Award (he earned his degree there in music), Colionne became a teacher and mentor of elementary school students in Elgin, IL. Over the next twenty-two years, when he wasn’t touring, Colionne devoted much of his spare time to mentoring children at the St. Laurence K-8 School in Elgin and ultimately became a teacher and mentor there. His roles include counselling, teaching music, computer music skills and guitar, and directing the talent shows and holiday pageants.

His relationship with the students doesn’t end when they move on to high school, and he has watched with pride as “his kids” have entered college, the army, and even marriage!

As a point to which I alluded earlier, Colionne is frequently referred to as “the best dressed man in jazz,” and he enjoys an ongoing endorsement from the men’s designer line Stacy Adams, as well as long-time endorsements with Epiphone Guitars, Gibson Strings and Accessories, and AKG Electronics.

Nick´s charity work is ongoing and generally quiet, but, in 2009, he joined forces with Epiphone Guitars, Wine and Jazz Magazine, and Tobin James Winery in a national campaign to benefit breast cancer research. In 2010, he invited his sponsor Stacy Adams to participate in Suited Up for Success, a program with the Urban League of the Carolinas to benefit men re-entering the workforce. Stacy Adams has endowed “his” school, St. Laurence, with a music scholarship in his name to help needy students as well as dedicated a scholarship in Colionne’s name to the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship Awards in Milwaukee, WI.

Sadly, in November of 2017 Colionne posted on his official Facebook page, “Good morning Facebook friends. As some of you may know I have been mentoring at the St. Laurence school for the last 22 years. Yesterday I was informed that the school is in financial crisis and may have to close. I’m reaching out to ask you if you can find it in your hearts and in your budget to donate to help keep the doors open for this great school and a beautiful bunch of children. If you can please send donations to St. Laurence school at 572 Standish, Elgin IL. 60123. Any help would be appreciated.” We at TSJR are looking at ways we can also help in this cause.

Colionne honed his skills playing with R&B legends the Staples Singers, Curtis Mayfield, The Impressions, Natalie Cole, and more. He worked with numerous successful groups before deciding to step out front and center and hasn´t looked back since.

Since blasting out of “The Big Windy” onto the national contemporary jazz scene in 2003, Nick Colionne’s career has been in ecstatic overdrive, perfectly embodying the crackling energy of his breakthrough mega-hit single “High Flyin’,” which hit #2 on the Radio & Records airplay chart and was one of the genre’s Top Ten songs of the year. After hitting further pay dirt with his follow-up Top 20 single “It’s Been Too Long,” he kept up his chart-busting ways with “Always Thinking Of You,” the single from Keepin’ It Cool (which itself was a Top Ten Billboard Contemporary Jazz single) that stayed on the R&R chart for an incredible 45 weeks and was also a Top Ten single of the year at radio as well as the Number One global internet radio jazz single of the year.

As powerful a presence as he is on the airwaves, the real Colionne magic happens onstage, where his live performances truly defy categorization. One of most compelling headliners in urban jazz, the supremely stylish performer has kept up a breakneck schedule of over 100 live dates a year while whipping audiences into a frenzy with his bluesy jamming, heartfelt blazing jazz licks and–” hearkening back to the first professional gig he ever did at 15–” even a hint of heavy metal. Likewise, Colionne’s blues edge comes from years of honing his chops at clubs throughout the city. When asked about the connections between genres, he likes to quote one of jazz’s premier legends: “In the words of Miles Davis, if you can’t play blues, you can’t play jazz.”

WGN-TV and Radio may have proclaimed him “Wes with a new millennium twist,” a reference to Colionne’s primary guitar influence Wes Montgomery, but this legendary connection is only one part of Colionne’s musical evolution.

“The most exciting part of all of this for me is that I’m actually living my dream, getting a chance to play guitar for people in so many places,” says Colionne. “I go into every live performance like it’s the last time I’ll ever play, giving the fans the best I have to offer that day no matter what’s going on in my life offstage. I find that a unique metamorphosis takes place between the time I leave the wings and get to the front of the stage, and in that moment, I turn on and give them everything I’ve got. The main goal is to let everything flow naturally and make it fun for the audience. The greatest moments come when I look at their faces and realize that I’m making them feel the same joy that I’m feeling. It’s always gratifying when the people around me believe in my music the same way I do.”

Colionne was honoured with the prestigious 2007 International Instrumental Artist of the Year Award at the Wave Jazz Awards, succeeding 2006 winner Chris Botti. He was nominated for the award again in 2009. He was nominated as Guitarist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year by the American Smooth Jazz Awards in 2010 and received the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award for his ongoing commitment to mentoring children and his work in the community and nationally in support of breast cancer causes. Other honours include Alumnus of the Year at Malcolm X College in Chicago, Artist of the Year at the 2011 Rehoboth Beach Jazz Festival and Performer of the Year for JazzTrax Jazz Festivals in 2010 and 2011.

It’s no surprise that Nick Colionne’s sustained chart-topping radio history and his incredible live performances, infused with his unique and soulful styling of jazz, funk, R&B and blues along with his rich vocals and engaging stage personality, have made him a force to be reckoned with. – Steve Giarchardi

To view the complete discography of Nick Colionne, click here.