For Nick Colionne, pictured here with Peter White, 2006 could hardly have started better. His new CD ‘Keepin It Cool’ is picking up rave reviews and the first single from it, ‘Always Thinking Of You’, is racing up the chart of most played on smooth jazz radio. Since the 1994 release of his debut CD, ‘Its My Turn’, Nicks career has seen its fair share of twists and turns so when I recently got the chance to talk to him about all that and more I first asked him how the genre has changed over those intervening twelve years.
“Although smooth jazz was around in 1994 it contained more pure jazz elements,” he told me. “Today it’s predominately pop based and often shows little resemblance to what some would regard as jazz. However,” he added, “everything changes. Jazz has changed through the years either following or dictating musical taste. My music has done the same. Back in the day I was playing jazz guitar that had straight ahead elements to it. I have played R & B too. To change is not selling out, its moving with the times and keeping it fresh.”
Nick Colionne is proving himself to be a great songwriter, both for his own projects and for other artists. I queried how he reconciles this with the number of cover versions that currently fill the airwaves. “I have done and still do covers,” he admitted. “A song that I really love is the Stylistics hit ‘Hurry Up This Way Again’. That’s why I included it on the ‘Arrival’ CD in 1996. When I recorded ‘Just Come In’ on the Three Keys label, the owner there, Marcus Johnson, said he loved it too but thought it was under exposed so we used it again. The same goes with ‘Rainy Night In Georgia” he continued. “It was a tune I had done for years as part of my live shows. I had kind of grown up with it. When we sat down to put together ‘Keepin It Cool’ my manager Carol Ray told me I should do it. So we did.”
Regarding his own compositions Nick explained that the ability to tell his own musical stories remains one of his greatest joys. Writing with other artists who he respects and regards as friends is something else from which he gets a buzz. “Peter White is a great example,” he explained. “He had been playing a show in Chicago and I was doing a gig in a hotel in town when he came in and asked if he could jam along with me. That night we played until the place closed and as a consequence struck up a great friendship. Peter is a cool guy and when Steve Cole called me to say that he and Peter had a song for me that had my name all over it I jumped at the chance to work with them. I added a melody and the result was ‘If You Ask Me’. It’s on the new album.”
I have commented elsewhere that ‘Keepin In Cool’ is very much a product of Chicago and I asked him about his tendency to collaborate with other Chicago based musicians. “We know each others styles,” he commented, “and we tend to kind of all play the same way, like every gig we play is our last. There are many great players on the west coast but with more outlets for their music and its smooth jazz weather all year round too. Here we are hungrier. Just look at Brian Culbertson. He might be on the west coast now but he plays with the energy and intensity that is straight out of Chicago.”
The smooth jazz phenomenon of the moment is that of the ‘Cruise Show’ and Nick has his own niche as part of Brian Culbertson’s All Star Cruise. I enquired how he had taken to it. “I love performing live,” he said, “and I love the audience interaction. To be that close to the fans for a whole week and to get to hang out with them is awesome. It’s the same with meeting the other artists. It’s the only chance in an entire year we get to network, to sit and talk together. I met up with Euge Groove on the last cruise and now we are good friends.”
Finally I asked Nick what he had in store for the future and not surprisingly he was full of ideas. “First and foremost,” he started, “I want to play more live gigs. I like the opportunity to really develop tunes in a live setting the way that isn’t possible within the confines of a record. I’m even doing my first Winery gig this summer (with Marion Meadows) so might tap into a whole new fan base. I also want to write more. I have my own projects but often come up with new stuff; vocal tunes for example, that won’t work for me but would fit well with someone else. I’m also hoping to collaborate with Steve Cole on a couple of things and am writing some material with Craig Chaquico in mind.”
Nick Colionne is one of the most talented performers around and throughout our conversation confirmed himself as one of the most engaging and interesting too. He remains true to his principles of playing and writing original smooth jazz with an edge and for that he is to be commended.
For more on Nick Colionne go to www.nickcolionne.com