Nick Colionne refers to his music as "jazz guitar on the funky side". Anyone who has had the pleasure of hearing Nick's music, or better yet hearing him play live, is in for a real treat. Nick Colionne is funky with a little blues and R&B rolled in, and his charismatic personality shines from the stage. Always dressed in a matching outfit, he is the epitome of the ZZ Top song, Sharp Dressed Man. His shoes even match his clothes and he admits to loving to shop for clothes as his very favorite activity, next to fishing.
Nick Colionne grew up surrounded by music. His step father started teaching him to play guitar at the age of nine and his grandparents were big jazz lovers. At the age of 15, Nick was asked to tour with the R&B band the Impressions and the rest is history.
Nick launched his solo career in 1993 with the release of "It's My Turn", and his career really took off in 2003 when "Come On In" which included the mega hits "High Flyin'" and "It's Been Too Long."
SJN: We understand that you are from a musical family who were a large influence on you. What about other early influences outside of your family?
Nick: I listened to a lot of records as a kid, mostly Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, George Benson, Jimi Hendrix, and BB King. There were a lot of guys in my neighborhood who played, there were a lot of bands. I used to go hang around and listen to them play and try to get some lessons from guys who would give them to me.
SJN: You became a professional musician at the age of 15. How did that come about?
Nick: I just happened to be in the right place at the right time, I guess. I had been playing with a lot of guys who were older, they would talk about me, and the word got out to the Impressions that I was a good catch to take out on the road, even though I was very young. I went to a rehearsal and the next thing I knew, I was on the road.
SJN: Well, that was a big jump!
Nick: Yes, it was a big thing and kind of scary, but I just went out there and let it do what it do!
SJN: At the age of 15, going out there, did they take you under their wing?
Nick: The band taught me how to carry myself as a professional musician. A few years later, I got the opportunity to play with the Staple Singers. That was a real awakening for me! Pop Staples kind of took me under his wing and taught me a lot about the music business, and also how to carry myself as a musician and a person in the music industry. I’d have to say I learned more through my few years that I played with the Staple Singers about the music business, than I did from anywhere else.
SJN: What about some of these other prominent artists like Natalie Cole, and Curtis Mayfield. What influence did your association with these artists have on your musical career?
Nick: Those were recording sessions that I got called in the play on. I was honored to be on those records because I was a young guy and I figured there were a lot of more experienced guitarists out there, but they liked what I did, so they called me. I’m always going to feel honored that I got a chance to do those records.
SJN: You must have learned a lot from them as well?
Nick: Oh Yes, I learned a lot about the recording process, and you know, not to take all day to make something! (laughs)
SJN: On that note, let’s talk about the new CD, why did you name it “No Limits”?
Nick: I didn’t want to have it limited to one genre. I’m always going to be Nick Colionne, the guitar player and I wanted to expand my horizons with different styles of music I have played throughout my career, like R&B, Blues, and Metal, although there’s no metal on this record. I played all different types of music and I wanted the record to reflect some of the different genres I played in. So I called it “No Limits” so that then people saw it, they would get the idea that this record is not just one thing, that it’s going to be diverse, crossing over other genre’s.
SJN: Can you tell us about it?
Nick: The title song, "No Limits" is a Smooth Jazz kind of track, but very up-tempo, very energetic. Then we have a song called "Stepping Back" which is more of a dance oriented type song. The "Windy City Cat", I named because I always refer to Chicago as the big windy, so guys on the road refer to me as the cat from the big windy. It’s kind of a bluesy number, which describes what we do in Chicago. You know, Chicago is a big blues town! I also wrote a song, "Melting Into You" with Jim Peterik who was with the Ides of March. They did this really big song called "Vehicle", which he wrote and he also wrote the theme song from Rocky, "Eye of the Tiger". He and I collaborated on two songs, "Melting Into You" and another song called "Hartland", which is another bluesy song. Then, I did an R&B song that was written by my cousin Paul Richmond who wrote the Grammy Award winning song, "Shining Star" by the Manhattans. He wrote a song for me and I recorded it. It leans really heavy to the R&B side. "Ports of Call" is more of a Caribbean feel, inspired by the cruise. As usual, I always do a song that is a dedication to my mentor, Wes Montgomery. The song is called "Heading Wes Before Dawn". "On the Edge", which is the name for my production company, because that’s the way I play, kind of on the edge of the groove. To try to make the music sound like you are speeding up, while not speeding up, because you are right on the edge of where the pocket is. "Until Tonight" is a very romantic, dreamy tune. We tried to be very diverse in where we were going with this record, so that we can try to touch some of everybody with this record, so that’s why it’s titled, No Limits. I didn’t want it to be limited at all. I didn’t want people to feel if they bought this record that they would hear the same thing over and over again. There would be some diversity and they would see that I am the kind of artist that can move around different places, which would make them want to come out and see me more. I also tried to use more energy in this record, the type of energy that I try to bring to the stage. I want to try to bring a condensed version of that type of energy to this project.
SJN: Since you own your own production company, On the Edge Productions, how does this affect you making a new CD?
Nick: The only person I am producing right now is me. The company is owned by me and my manager, Carol Ray. We started the company because in the beginning, I had no record label, so we called it ‘On the Edge Productions’. We put my first record on On the Edge Productions label, Hence on the edge, we have been on the edge since. (laughes)
SJN: You will be the Jam Session Host again on the upcoming 2009 All Star Smooth Cruise. We understand you have a great time doing this, can you well us more about this?
Nick: The jam session on the cruise is a great thing for me. It gives all of the musicians a chance to interact and play with each other. When I first went on the cruise, there were a lot of people I had never played with before. Some of these guys were like icons, people you idolize, like Larry Carlton was on the cruise. He was on the cruise last year and will be joining us again this next year in 2009. It gave me the opportunity to play with Larry Carlton, somebody who I hero worshipped. What I try to do is make the jam session fun for the musicians and make the jam session fun for the audience. I don’t come in with a preconceived notion of what the jam session is going to be or what songs are going to be played. It’s like, everybody show up and we are going to let it do what it do and whatever it does, let’s just make it fun and everyone gets a chance to get up and do their thing. It turns out really well because the kind of person who likes spontaneity, I don’t like anything too planned out, I can’t get with it. So, everything that happens on our jam session is totally spontaneous and it can get pretty wild, which is what makes it fun. Guys are up there jamming, they respect each other as musicians, and they respect each other as people. We don’t get to play with each other. Everybody has their band and they are doing their thing. We don’t even get to see each other that much, and if we do, it is in passing. I’m coming in town and they are leaving from the town or from the festival, when I’m first getting there. So the jam session brings us together as a community. Here we are together on this boat for a whole week, so we get a chance to hang out with each other, hang out with the people, and we get a chance to play together. It go out there and just have fun! The jam session is the coolest thing to me!
We get some people from the audience who get up and play. Surprisingly, people bring their instruments on vacation. I get up as many of them as I can on stage. They are not really professional and they get to come up on stage and play with guys they hear on the radio all the time.
SJN: Your clothes. You are the best dressed man in Smooth Jazz with no contenders! Your shoes even match your outfit. Why did you start dressing so eloquently on stage?
Nick: From the beginning, as a young guy when I played with the Staple Singers and the Impressions, I learned the older groups really dressed well when they came on stage. I’m a firm believer that if people pay their hard earned money to come out and see me, they want to see me look presentable. If they want to watch construction workers, they would go to a construction site to see them dressed like that. I like clothes, and where I grew up at, in Chicago on the west side, guys dress very well, so I learned how to dress, just being in the neighborhood, and it’s something that I like to do! I picked up an endorsement from Stacy Adams because I wear so many of their clothes. I like the coordination, the shoes match whatever I’m wearing. Kind of like a woman, her purse and shoes have to match. (laughs) I’m just really into clothes. That’s my vise. I don’t drink or do none of anything else, so I spend my money on clothes.
SJN: You have really been getting around the last few years, having now played about every major festival and venue in the Untied States. Which are your favorite festivals or venues and why?
Nick: I love Catalina Island! I love the atmosphere, the whole island thing is so beautiful and Art Good is a really great guy to work for, so that is one of my favorites. I also love Jazz on the Vine and Kettle Moraine, in Wisconsin. Osthoff is a beautiful place and the music is always great. The promoter, John Ertl is one of the greatest people I’ve come to know as a promoter. I love playing at the Mable House in Atlanta, that is a great venue that people come out to. The places I really love are the places where people really come out to hear the music and to enjoy themselves.
I love being on the cruise, that is the ultimate gig for me. I just came back yesterday from St Lucia. It was my first time there and I played with Najee, Ledisi, and Alex Bugnon. We did a thing called Jazz Explosion. It was a great venue, I loved it. It was my first time and I hope that I am invited back. Also, I loved Big Bear Mountain, although it was way in the sky. I loved playing there. The Celebrity Theatre in Phoenix is one of my favorite places also. There’s just to name a few because I could go on and on. Any place that lets me in with my guitar and lets me play is my favorite place. (laughes)
SJN: You mentioned Jazz Explosion. Is this a new ensemble act?
Nick: I think it was a one time thing Najee put together, but hopefully we will do some more things together because I thought that it was a really good mix. We all got really into each other on the gig and it was a great gig. We opened up for Anita Baker. It was great!
SJN: We read that you appeared as an actor in the Goodman Theater's award-winning play Spunk. Do you act often?
Nick: (Laughes) I got lucky because when I went in to do the audition for the show, I auditioned to be an understudy, but the guy I understudied wasn’t showing up, so I got to be in the play. It was a great play and a real experience. It was an easy part for me, I was playing the part of Guitar Man so there wasn’t a whole lot of acting involved. I left that experience having a whole new respect for actors, especially theatre actors because it is really hard. They have long days!
SJN: Did you play guitar and sing in the show?
Nick: Yes, I did!
SJN: We understand you mentor kids in the Chicago School system?
Nick: I have been mentoring for 12 years. I started at a school named St. Laurence which is in a suburb of Chicago in Elgin, Illinois. Then I was mentoring at the school called Florence B. Price, which is on the south side of Chicago, two very different schools, very diverse schools. Florence B. Price has pulled the mentoring program since they got a new principal this past year so he wants to get settled in before he starts doing anything again, so maybe next September I will go back there, but I’ve been at St. Lawrence for 12 years. I try to go two or three times a month to the school. I get the talent shows together, do the music for the Easter pagents, and whatever other plays they want to do. I also teach kids how to play guitar. My guitar company, Epiphone, was gracious enough to donate 12 guitars and amps to the school. I have also teach kids how we use the computer in music, how we use it as a composing tool. I go on field trips with the kids as a chaperone. If I am in town, I try to get a lot of kids together and I take them fishing with me.
SJN: What do you tell the kids about life as a musician?
Nick: I tell them that you can’t go into it expecting to be a star overnight. The days of people being discovered are long gone. You can’t just knock on the door, you’ve got to kick the door down now to get in. You can’t take anything for granted. You can’t not be up on your instrument, because that is the most important thing. The show is one thing, but to be well versed and confident in what you do. I always tell them no matter how long it takes, you can make it. People can slow you down, but no one can stop you, but you! You are the only person who can stop you. As long as you have faith and believe in yourself, you can be whatever you want to be. You can be as big as you want to be, you just have to believe it in your heart. I order to get the dream, you have to have it, and be able to see it. If you keep the dream in front of you, and do what it takes to get there, than you will be there.
SJN: Besides music, what else sparks your interest?
Nick: I do more fishing than anything! Fishing and swimming are my main two things, but I shoot a lot of pool. I like bike riding. I go to a lot of movies. I love shopping! I even go shopping when I’m not buying, I just go looking, ‘eye buying’, I call it. Those are my hobbies, and spending time with my family are the most important things to me. Spending time with my Mom and my nieces and nephews. They come out to my house and they like to hang out. My three little nieces are my heart, 11, 8 and 4. I have bought enough Barbie dolls in the last few years to own the factory.
SJN: So what kind of fishing and where?
Nick: I usually do a lot of Bass fishing for Walleye and Catfish. Those are my three main fish I like to catch. I fish just about everywhere in Illinois and sometimes I go to Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, or North Carolina. But, usually, I fish not far from my house. About 15 miles away, I can go to the Fox River. I bought a Bass boat last year, but I haven’t had a chance to put it in the water. Hopefully, I will get it in the water this summer. I go to a lot of fishing shows and I spend a lot of time in Cabela’s and Bass outlet stores walking around. (Laughes) When I played at Humphrey’s in San Diego, I couldn’t stay at sound check, I kept walking over to the guys fishing on the pier.
SJN: Any other exciting things happening this year?
Nick: What is exciting to me is that I’m getting around to a lot of different places and play. That’s the most exciting thing for me right now, just to be out there playing.
SJN: Thanks so much for interviewing with us and good luck with your new CD.