Nick Colionne – Influences

  Label: Red Distribution

 

Interview by: Bridgid Brousseau   

 

Interviewing Jazz Artist, Nick Colionne hardly felt like an interview. I felt as though I was talking to a good friend. He opens up about his music, success, the devastating loss of Carol Ray and so much more.

 

Bridgid: Thank you so much for sharing your time, thoughts and feelings with us. Congratulations on your new album “Influences” being released on April 1, 2014. It must be an incredible feeling especially since your album “Feel the Heat” from 2011 is still on the charts.

 

Nick: I’m excited! It’s a good feeling. I’ll be glad with the first gets here. Since it’s released on April 1st, I hope it’s not some sort of April fool’s joke.

 

Bridgid: I’ve had a taste of it. “When you Love Somebody” is beautiful and your rendition of “With You I’m Born Again” with Maysa is just elegant. Maysa has one of the most pristine and beautiful voices of our time. How did that collaboration come to be?

 

Nick: I actually thought about doing this record for some time. I thought about it when I was recording the “Feel the Heat” record. I just never got around to it. So, I called Maysa and asked her to do this song with me and she said okay. So I did it fast before she had the chance to change her mind.

 

Bridgid: Wow! It must be nice to be able to pick up the phone and call great talents like that. My phonebook is definitely lacking.

 

Nick: It’s a good feeling but sometimes it’s an overwhelming feeling. These are all people that I admire so much. It’s still an amazing feeling to me.

 

Bridgid: You pretty much have your choice and I’m sure your phone is ringing off the hook too. What attracts you musically to a particular artist that makes you want to reach out to him or her to collaborate with you?

 

Nick: Well, I had worked together with Maysa a lot in the last few years. We established a real friendship. We’ve done gigs together. She called me a few years ago and I played a couple of songs on her “Metamorphosis” album. So when it was time for me to do my CD I thought about her voice. Nobody does it like Maysa! I was fortunate enough to have heard her and she said she would be happy to do it.

 

Nick: I haven’t done many collaborations but when I do it’s usually because they’ve got something that I hear and it fits with what I’m doing. It’s not that I try to rely on friendships. I don’t call a particular person just because they’re my friend. I call the one that I hear in my head and how their sound fits into what I’m doing. That’s usually how I do it and then it’s just a matter of them saying “yes.”

 

Bridgid: Have you ever had anyone say no?

 

Nick: Not yet! Maybe it’s because I haven’t asked them.

 

Bridgid: Tell us about the track “C-Ray” on your upcoming “Influences” album.

 

Nick: My manger was Carol Ray and her signature was always “C. Ray.” I lost her at the end of November of last year.

 

Bridgid: My condolences to you.

 

Nick: She was the only manager I had ever had and the closest person to me for the last 21 years. She passed away so I wanted to do a song for her. She didn’t get a chance to hear this whole record. She only got a chance to hear of a couple songs. As I was doing the record she became ill last May. I recorded this song different from anything else because I had emotional things happening. I decided to record whatever I was feeling. That’s what came out of me and I put other things around it. This is how I feel and this is what is coming out. I wish she had the chance to hear it.

 

Bridgid: She was such an inspiration to so many people. She was your best friend, your manager and companion. Have you found a new manager?

 

Nick: No, I haven’t really looked or even thought about it. I have a new booking manager. The one thing I don’t want to do is to get a new manager and try to gage that person by the way that Carol did things. She was very efficient. For me it’s not just a business, the person has to believe in me and what I’m doing and not just collect 10%.

 

Bridgid: May I ask, how did Carol pass away?

 

Nick: She had a stroke last May and then she had an embolism. A blood clot wouldn’t move because she was paralyzed on one side. Before the stroke she also had a hip replacement. After the hip replacement, then to have a stroke a month later and not being able to move, she developed blood clots and one moved to her lung.

 

Bridgid: I’m so sorry for you loss. I know these are difficult questions with her passing being so recent but because we see you on stage, we know your music and your stage presence, fans are always interested in you as a person as well.

 

Bridgid: What was it like for the first t time that you traveled or performed without Carol with you?

 

Nick: Very emotional for me. My first gig on the road wasn’t as bad for as me as my first gig (without her) in Chicago. It was my first time performing in Chicago when Carol wasn’t sitting there. It was last Fall. She called me and said that “even if I can’t walk right in, I going to be at that gig, I’m going to be there on Valentines Day.” I think about her every day because my day started with me calling Carol. I would usually talk to her three or four times a day, every day. Some mornings I still wake up and say to myself, “I’ve got to give Carol a call.” That’s how close we were.

 

Bridgid: The two of you met at The Cotton Club?

 

Nick: Yes. At the time I was playing with another band and she came to see me a couple of times. She encouraged me, telling me that I had the “goods” to go out on my own. I didn’t really know how and told her that she should be my manager. She believed in me and I believed in her as a person. We loved each other like family. She became a part of my family.

 

Bridgid: How did the two of you celebrate the release of your first album, “It’s My Turn?”

 

Nick: We did a CD release party at a club called The Jazz Oasis in Chicago. We were so happy because we didn’t know quite what we were doing and then all of a sudden we were on the radio. We were so excited!

 

Nick: There were so many guys cutting records trying to get on the local station there in Chicago. WNUA was a powerhouse station there. I met a guy at the recording studio while I was doing a remake of Toni Braxtion’s “Love Shoulda Brought you Home” and he liked it. He wanted me to send my songs to WNUA because he used to work for the program director. So, I sent them down there. You never know what’s going to happen. The director called me after I finished the record, I met with him on a Friday, gave him a copy of the finished song and when I woke up Monday morning my song was on the radio. Things just happened.

 

Bridgid: There were so many offers of condolences and words of praise following Carol’s passing. I’m sure there are several songs on your past albums and the upcoming “Influences” album that are dedicated to her. Everyone that knew her adored her. Can you name a few so that her fans and your fans can keep her spirit and memory alive while listening to them?

 

Nick: “C-Ray of course,” “Here’s to You,” and on the album “It’s My Turn,” there is a song called “Inca” which was a joke between us. That was my nickname for her. That was her African name. I told her I could speak African. She would catch me because she would ask me words in African at one time, then she would ask me again and I would tell her something different. Also, “The Huntress” on “It’s My Turn.” That was another nickname I had for her. So, those four songs are for Carol. It seems like when I’m working on a project different things happen during the project with somebody that was close to me. This time it was Carol.

 

 

Nick: May of 2013 was one of the worst times in my life. My surrogate dad, Mr. Howard passed away in May. He would travel with me too after he retired. Within an eight day period I had more tragedy. I got a call one Thursday from his daughter saying that he was on life support. Carol and I went to the hospital to see him on Friday and he passed the following morning. The following Tuesday came and my mother’s breast cancer returned. The following Thursday, one of my students was found dead and abandoned at only 13 years old. The next day Carol had a stroke. Fortunately my mother is fine. She had cancer for the third time but they caught it in time so she’s fine.

 

 

Nick: This record was supposed to have been released in last August and this is why it’s just coming out. This record has a lot of emotion for me.

 

Bridgid: Your musical influences include Jimi Hendrix, George Benson and most of all Wes Montgomery whom you’ve deemed as one of your heroes. What was it about him that had such an impact on you and made him stand from the rest?Nick: I started to play just before I was nine years old and my stepfather played guitar. When I started showing interest he started playing a lot of Wes Montgomery for me. There is just something about Wes Montgomery that touches me, even as a kid. I just love Wes Montgomery! I put a track on every one of my albums that’s dedicated to Wes Montgomery. “Influences” is my first record where I didn’t do a direct tribute to Wes Montgomery due to Carol’s passing.

 

Bridgid: If he were alive today what would you say to him or ask him if you could?

 

Nick: I would ask him where his ideas came from. I did have the pleasure of meeting his son. I was at an airport and there was this guy calling my name. He asked for my autograph and told me about a tribute he was doing for his father requesting that I be on it. I asked him who his father was and he replied, “Wes Montgomery.” I was blown away! I listen to Wes Montgomery every day. Sometimes when I do tears come out of my eyes.

 

Bridgid: You have so many accolades and accomplishments. To date, I count eight albums including the upcoming release of “Influences.” Yet you still make time for teaching and mentoring students and humanitarianism. In fact, you were awarded the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award in 2010.

 

Bridgid: I can tell from my short time speaking with you that you’re a very compassionate man. Where does this compassionate side of you stem from because it is so lacking in today’s society and the world as a whole?

 

Nick: It was the way I was raised. I really love kids. I love being around them and being able to show them things whether it’s musical or anything else. They call me “Uncle Nick.” I take them fishing and give them advice. I don’t feel that it would be right for me not to share what I know. If I can stop someone from making the same mistakes I made then I want to help them.

 

Bridgid: Does turning on the radio and hearing your music being played ever get old?

 

Nick: I heard my new single “When you Love Somebody” today for the first time in the car pulling into the mall on Sirius radio. It still has the same effect on me every time. It’s a chill that runs through your body. It’s a very emotional feeling.

 

Bridgid: One of your favorite past times is fishing. How did you get into that?

 

Nick: I’ve been fishing since I was a little boy. My great- grand parents and my great- great grandparents on my mother’s side were always fishing. They were from the south and my great grandfather hunted and took me and my brother fished all the time. Even when we didn’t want to go, we would go and it’s something that I have kept on doing. It relaxes me. When you’re out there on the water at 4:00 am in the morning, it’s dark and quiet. I can get in touch with my spiritual side. I can hear the creator speaking. My great- grand mother died a few weeks before her 106th birthday. Up until then I would take her fishing which was special to me.

 

Bridgid: I’ve noticed the titles of your albums and the individual songs also. What come first for you the music or the title?

 

Nick: It varies. Usually I come up with a working title for a project and I try to work within that title. Sometimes it changes. With “Influences” it actually took a different direction than I planned. Carol came up with the name. I wanted to do a record with a tribute title to the towns that I played in. As we started working the music took it somewhere different. I started to change the title but when Carol passed I kept it since it was our last record. It still has the flavor I was going for from the beginning.

 

Bridgid: How is your music network HBO? How did you come up with that acronym?

 

Nick: When I first said that, it just came off the top of my head. I was at the Bahamas Jazz festival and someone asked about my shoes and I said I got them from my company “HBO.” It stands for “help a brother out.” I never know what’s going to come out of my mouth.

 

Bridgid: That's what we all love about you! Thank you for taking the time to speak with us.

 

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Bob James & David Sanborn at the 35th Annual Playboy Jazz Festival

 

Interview By: Bridgid Brousseau 

 

Check yourself out! I think the worst thing that can happen to a young player is that they achieve the goal of sounding like their hero.

                                  ~David Sanborn~

 

Anyone might have the propensity to succumb to an almost hypnotizing awe in the presence of jazz icons, saxophonist, David Sanborn, and arranger / composer, Bob James. However, both of their auras have as much as a calming and soothing effect as many of their musical hits.

 

They shared the stage together at the 2013 Playboy Jazz Festival with bassist, James Genus and legendary drummer, Steve Gadd. Together they have crafted and launched their new album entitled “Quartette Humaine” in which the pair pay tribute to the late jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck.

 

David Sanborn and Bob James are two of the most revered musicians of all time. Independently they possess the most distinctive and influential sounds in music and have maintained that endurance throughout the past four decades. They shared priceless insight into their staying power and never ceasing mass appeal.

 

As one will learn about Sanborn and James, they have a practice of being genuinely forthright in their unwavering determination to give the crowd what they want during every performance. Their objective is to tell stories while remaining truthful to themselves and others using music as their messenger. That posture undoubtedly extends into their conversations with others.

 

One common theme that can be found between David Sanborn and Bob James is their genuine nature to share selflessly. The two conveyed invaluable messages and knowledge that should be heeded not only by musicians but humanity. The thoughts, advice, insight and experiences they generously shared are priceless and rare because their last collaboration was on the album entitled “Double Vision” recorded 26 years ago. The two last appeared together at The Playboy Jazz Festival two years ago with the group “Fourplay,” founded by James.

 

Bridgid: Congratulations on the “Quartette Humaine” album! What took you two so long to collaborate on a second album together?

 

David: We ask ourselves that all the time. The lives of musicians are very complicated. We both also had other commitments and before you know it 26 years goes by.

 

Bob: We needed to have these 26 years of experience so that we could come back strong. We could regret the fact that it took us so long, but at least we did it. We can also proudly say that we have two other projects and we are not going to wait another 26 years before we do a third album.

 

Bob: Coming back together after such a long time and having spent that time working on other projects independently can bring a wealth of experience. During that time we did so many things and went in so many directions separately that when we got back together we had to really reunite in a total way. We talked about what music we like, what we don’t like and we’re still learning about what it means to have the opportunity to collaborate again after such a long time. It’s amazing to me. I think I’ve been learning more during the live tour over the last couple of weeks in front of a live audience than I think we did in the studio.

 

David: Because we didn’t follow up “Double Vision” with a live tour, we never really had a chance to play that music through and explore. A lot of times what happens is when you play music live it changes and morphs into something different. So now because we’re playing music from both the new album “Quartette Humaine,” and “Double Vision,” we’re playing that music live for the first time ever.

 

Bob: Right! It’s awesome to think about it too. Neither one of us can think of why we never toured together after doing a record but the bottom line is we didn’t. Not once during that whole period of time did we ever play that music live until we were on a cruise. It came up that multi-instrumentalist and producer, Marcus Miller was also on the cruise and on our “Double Vision” record. It ended up being an evening that was filled with all of the music from “Double Vision.”

 

Bob: When we realized that we were going to be embarking on this tour together, we realized that we had so many opportunities like tonight here at the Playboy Jazz Festival. We’re playing one of the venues that is unique to the planet. There’s nothing like it and we learn something about our songs. For example, we learn which songs come off when you’re looking at people in the afternoon that are here to party and they’ve heard everything that there is. They’ve heard every conceivable kind of music coming through there. Does our music still hold up? How will it old up when we play it? My mind is still spinning from that.

 

David: With “Double Vision,” we weren’t really a group. It was just kind of a collaboration to do the record. As with I, Bob was heavily committed to doing all kinds of stuff. So it was never really part of the plan but when the record became so successful, it was like “holy cow!” What now? As time went on we would see each other on the road and talk about it. Before you know it 25 years goes by.

 

Bridgid: Was the album in the works before the passing of Mr. Brubeck? Bob: Yes, it was. And it evolved gradually. We weren’t really setting out to do a complete project in tribute to Dave Brubeck. It has turned out to be a great way to describe our project. His group had the same instrumentation as what we decided to do. We didn’t want to use production and we didn’t want to use the acoustic sound which we knew would be a good surprise for our fans. We knew that it was going to be different. The parallels to Dave Brubeck also gave us something to talk about and something to focus in on. We both talked about how fun it is to do interviews and talk because you can be specific when saying something.

 

Bridgid: How do you feel about your new album? David: Oh! We feel great!

 

Bob: It’s an abstract thing. In our new project it is a way to go back in our history, showing our roots and showing the jazz tradition. It just so happened that not only had we talked about the Dave Brubeck project when we first rehearsed, but we were in the studio when we first learned that Dave Brubeck had passed away. It was a total coincidence.

 

David: When we talked about the project we tried to find a point of entry for an idea for the record and we just talked about the various things that we had in common. We both had a great love for the Dave Brubeck Quartette. We didn’t want to try to recreate that music. We wanted to pay tribute to the spirit of Dave Brubeck and saxophonist and composer, Paul Desmond.

 

Bob: We talk about the fact that in my memory, I was in college listening to that group along with many other things, but what I gravitated to about Brubeck’s music is that it was very unpredictable. He dealt with many classical influences and themes. So in paying my respects the way it influenced me, I wanted to do my version of it. I wanted to give the feeling as if I was Dave Brubeck. If I went into my practice room, what spirit would I have and how would I approach the idea of creating new music to make the audience go on an adventure? I want to send them out to places they’ve never been before. And I hope this adventure that they go on will leave them feeling like they’ve had a good time.

 

As a project develops and as they play together tunes may tend to change, grow and evolve. We wondered if they were at all surprised by the way that any of the songs turned out or in the way in which they developed as they were putting them on the album.

 

David: Well, we’ve only done about six shows so far on this tour. We haven’t really played this music a lot live, but certainly we’re getting more comfortable with it and feeling a lot looser. It’s just in the early stages of starting to open up as to where we’re going to take it. We have a good healthy length of time left on this tour that will allow us the chance to develop. Tempos change, solos change and that sort of thing, but the thing about jazz is that you change internally along with the voicing and how things interact. We chose our players, Steve Gadd on drums and James Genus on bass for very specific reasons. They’re both simpatico.

 

Bob: They were an absolute natural fit. We had a really short conversation about who we should use. We talked about it and made some phone calls. The first call we made for drums was to Steve Gadd and he said yes. The first call we made for bass was James Genus. He came highly recommended. They both said yes and we were off and running! Gadd is a middleman in the sense that he played on “Double Vision” also. He was very much a part of our first collaboration when we played the music for “Double Vision.” Steve is a kind of a grounding point for us.

 

Bob: I listen to Dave talk about making this transition from recording to live and we know. We’re very aware of the fact that live audiences come to have fun. In our field they come to party and be comfortable. When you play a song that they know and that they are comfortable with you can feel their comfort and you can feel their spirit. We love that and the fact that we have some tunes that make them comfortable. But it is a different kind of a challenge to play new music, music the audience hasn’t heard before. Our record has only been out for about three weeks so we know that most of the people in this audience have never hear this music before. We have to perform it in a different way. Our best scenario is that if they become intrigued about it enough then they’ll want to go check it out.

 

Bridgid: There are so many musicians that emulate you. You two have a style that is impenetrable. What do you think it is about you that is so distinctive and keeps your fan base growing and coming back for more? When I listen to jazz music I know David Sanborn and Mr. James, I know your keys when I hear them. What do you think it is that keeps us coming back?

 

David: When I first started playing I was trying to sound like all of the guys that inspired me. I was trying to sound like Sam Crawford because of the circumstances I grew up in, the situations that I had put myself in and my environment. I listen to as much R&B as I do Jazz. I come from St. Louis and the mid-west where there’s a lot of Blues. My first gig was with blues guitarist and singer, Albert King playing Blues. So that’s always been the foundation of my playing. Guys that inspired me like David “Fathead” Newman and Sam Crawford were soulful guys and I was trying to sound like them. So, if I’m at all distinguishable it’s because of those guys. They gave me and showed me how to find a voice.

 

David: If I do have a voice it’s because they had voices and I understood at an intuitive level that is what I had. I talked to great musicians and they all said the same thing. “You’ve got to get the sound!” “It’s that sound!” “It’s technique!” The way Bob plays, the sensitivity that he plays with, the sense of space that he leaves, that’s not something you learn. It’s something that you just have and nurture. That’s a gift! Everybody has that gift and some people are grateful for it. Some people nurture that and some people honor that. If you honor what you’re given and let it grow, maybe that’s what it is that gives you your voice or distinctive quality.

 

Bob: I had the same feelings he did. I wanted to sound like Bill Evans or Oscar Peterson. I was paranoid about. If I was going to try and sound like Bill Evans, the best that I could do is come in second place. The world already had Bill Evans!

 

Bob: There is nothing wrong with having the influence as long as you’re honest about it, you’re learning and you’re in that phase in your life. But there was a transition and I know Dave must have felt it too, where you realize that you can be yourself. You’ve developed your whole life. You have your favorite things you like, things you don’t like and all of them become a part of your play and it’s just you at that point. As long as you’re honest about it , just trust it and be yourself, then you become you. At that point you can’t avoid it.

 

Bob: When I sit down at the piano now my fingers just sort of “go there” and in some ways I’m not even in control of it. My fingers are just doing it. They’re doing what they do and the result is not going to be any of the people I admire. I couldn’t do them anymore. I can only be myself and I believe that Dave has the same passion about honesty. He wants to be honest with what he plays with every single note.

 

David: You’ve got to get out of the way! Because what’s happening for me as I get older is that my bull crap meter gets more acute in regard to myself. If I start playing some bull crap I know it right away. Check yourself out! I think the worst thing that can happen to a young player is that if they achieve the goal of sounding like their hero.

 

David: There are 9,000 tenor players that want to sound just like John Coltrane. There’s one John Coltrane. We don’t need anymore. There are as many voices as there are people. We’re all storytellers. We tell our story. Don’t tell somebody else’s story. Tell your own story. And if you don’t have a story to tell, get one. Live your life! And that’s just a measure of humility about what this thing is that we do.

 

David: You never master it. It’s not a game that you win and that’s the great thing about it. It teaches you about the process and the Zen aspect about being in the moment. When our process is happening we’re really in the moment. We don’t think about what just happened or what’s going to happen. Athletes refer to it as being in “the zone.” That’s the juice there, the feeling, because nobody can take that away from you.

 

David: Everybody has it no matter what walk of life your in. You have it. Our job is to convey that spiritual message. We all have that. We are all capable of living in the moment and if somehow we can communicate that through the music and create a moment that everyone wants to inhabit for a minute then we have done our job. That’s what our job is. It’s not about impressing someone.

 

Bridgid: Mr. James are there any plans to do another album with your daughter Hilary? Perhaps a follow up to “Flesh and Blood?”

 

Bob: Yes, we talk about it all the time. I would love to! She made a record that I was a little bit a part of that never saw the light of day. That’s the hard Knox side of the business. The record company that we were working for went out of business before her record came out. We got a new distribution deal in which she does a song called “Storm Warning.” I think she does this song like nobody’s business. We’re shifting that record and we’re going to call the album “Storm Warning.” There are tunes that will see the light of day and that’s coming out very soon.

 

Fortunately for all of us, David Sanborn and Bob James step with intention to continue delivering majestic music that continues to be such an integral part of our lives. Their words of wisdom are something we should all treasure and implement into our lives because as Mr. Sanborn says, “it is our duty.” 

 
 

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Woodshed Jazz Magazine

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