Nick Colionne: Making a Difference for the Future
Music is a powerful thing. Through Colionne's efforts, jazz has brought together two generations in a mutually-rewarding friendship. Colionne and several of his now-grown students still keep their relationship going as strong as ever. "I've had students who went away to Iraq. I've had calls from the war, you know, just to talk to me. I feel like I touched their lives, just like they touched mine. I went to a wedding of one of the students last week and it's, like, 'Man, where's this time going? Wow, you're getting married already? I thought you were like fourteen!' For the last couple of years, all of the kids who've been graduatingI've known them ever since they started school, some since they started preschool! So the relationship is really close, you know.
"There are a couple of kids who have bands, and they'll call me and tell me they're playing somewhere. And if I'm in town I'll try to go. I just feel so happy and proud when I see them up there and playing. I always try to be there for them. They know they can call me on my cell phone when I'm on the road. I like for them to know where I am all the time. They know, whatever the case may be, I'll be there."
One would think that someone who connects so well with kids might have had a mentor of his own, but that was not the case for Nick Colionne. "Where I grew up, there were no mentor programs. You just tried to make it on the streets as good as you could. I wish I'd had somebody there like that. But most of the time, even as a teenager, I was going on the road. So I just kind of learned what was going on, on my own."
Nick Colionne's own first exposure to jazz came from hearing the music of his stepfather, who listened to jazz and played it on his guitar. And, strangely, Colionne arrived at the decision to play guitar as a means of avoiding possible punishment. "I was messing with my stepfather's guitar, and he caught me!" Colionne quickly said that he wanted to learn to play guitar, for fear of other repercussions. "My stepfather was, like, 'You want to play the guitar?' And I was scared. 'Yeah! Yeah, I want to learn how to play.' So when I started, it was some kind of epiphany that this was what I was supposed to do.
"I started off playing jazz because that's what my stepfather played. But as I became a teenager, kids just weren't listening to jazz. They were listening to R&B and rock. So I started playing the music that my peers were playing. But I've always played more with a jazz edge on everything. When I decided to embark on my solo career, I figured I'd play the music that's closest to my heartjazz."
It has been said that the music a person listens to as a child creates pathways in the brain that stay with him throughout his life, essentially predetermining the style of music he will find interesting or entertaining. If this is true, Nick Colionne has already become part of the solution by helping acquaint a new generation of musicians and listeners with the jazz art form. And in the process, he has enriched his own life and created relationships that will likely last a lifetime.
But not everyone is a musician and can affect the future of jazz through mentoring as Nick Colionne has. Others might wonder what they personally can do to help keep the flame alive and bring jazz to a new generation. Everyone can participate in the process by simply introducing children to the music at an early age, taking kids to jazz festivals and concerts, and by encouraging their involvement in jazz programs at their schools. We can also make contributions to support school jazz programs, which are increasingly being eliminated due to inadequate public funding. All of us can be a part of the solution in some fashion. And if jazz does ultimately become only a historical art form, at least we'll know that, like Nick Colionne, we made an attempt to keep jazz relevant and alive.
Nick Colionne, No Limits (KOCH Records, 2008)
Nick Colionne, Keepin' It Cool (Narada, 2006)
Nick Colionne, Just Come On In (Three Keys Music, 2003)
Nick Colionne, The Seduction (Lake Shore Jazz, 1999)
Nick Colionne, Arrival (Lake Shore Jazz, 1996)
Nick Colionne, It's My Turn (Lake Shore Jazz, 1994)
Top photo: Jacquie Patrick
Bottom photo: Mary Shuldman