By Melanie Maxwell
We are sad to report that guitarist Nick Colionne passed away on Jan. 1, 2022. The Chicago native died unexpectedly at a local hospital. His cause of death has not yet been disclosed.
As a teen, Colionne honed his guitar skills playing with The Staples Singers, The Impressions, Curtis Mayfield and Natalie Cole.
When he met Carol Ray in 1992, she began managing him and orchestrated his transition from sideman to successful solo artist. Together, they produced his first solo CD, It’s My Turn. In 2000, she quit her job as national sales director for Motorola’s semiconductor division to manage Colionne’s career full-time. He recorded 11 CDs since his debut, including a new one scheduled for release this spring.
Sadly, Ray passed away in 2013. Still, the career that his longtime partner and manager helped launch, nurture and manage with laser focus was soaring until his untimely and sudden death.
However, his music will live on, as well as his many accolades, which include becoming the only artist in the history of the format to score five consecutive No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Smooth Jazz National Airplay and Smooth Jazz Songs charts from a single album, The Journey. Throughout his career, he earned eight No. 1 and 17 Top 10 hits.
The most stylishly-dressed man in smooth jazz also received numerous honors throughout his multifaceted career, including the Wayman Tisdale Humanitarian Award at the 2010 National Smooth Jazz Awards for his ongoing commitment to mentoring children and his work in the community and nationally in support of breast cancer causes. In 1996, he received the Malcolm X College Alumnus of the Year Award (he earned his degree in music there). And, Art Good chose him as Performer of the Year at the 2010 and 2011 Catalina Island JazzTrax Festivals.
In 2004, a Midwest promoter, John Ertl, called Good to tell him about this hot Chicago guitarist that he should book for his Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival. “And, we had Nick first onstage at the JazzTrax Festival that October,” said Good from his Palm Springs, California, studio. “He was such a strong live performer that when we brought him back in 2006 we booked him for two consecutive weekends.” Colionne was recently booked for the 2022 Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival.
In addition to music and fashion (Colionne was known for his fly Stacy Adams ensembles), his passion was fishing. “He was often off before sunrise to his favorite Illinois lake to spend the day catching them,” said Good. “His agent once told me that Nick would wait by the phone for that call to come for his return to Catalina Island. Sure, to play at the festival but to fish in an ocean as well. He’d always come in a day or two earlier for that purpose. I once arrived, and as I got off the boat, there was Nick on the pier, fishing pole in hand, catching them from the Pacific Ocean.”
Colionne also devoted much of his spare time over the past 20 years to mentoring children at St. Laurence K-8 School in Elgin, Illinois. His roles included counseling, teaching music, computer music skills and guitar, and assisting with talent shows and holiday pageants.
Many great musicians have helped Colionne tell those stories instrumentally for decades. Over the years, his band members included keyboardist John Blasucci, pianist-songwriter Tim Gant, pianist Brian Danzy, pianist John Erickson, pianist Collin Clauson, bassist Garrett Body, guitarist-composer Dave Hiltebrand, drummer Jason Grant, drummer Carl C-Man Anderson, drummer Chris Miskel and more.
Whether you knew him as Nick, Uncle Nick, Nicky Nick or Nico, this amazingly talented, witty, charismatic and benevolent spirit will be sorely missed by his family, friends, fans, band members and charities he was involved with, including the American Cancer Society, Susan G. Komen and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, to name a few.
Colionne is survived by his wife, Susan; two children, Daryl (Zella) Curry and Nicole (Dathan) Brown; grandchildren Dareece, Dayjuan, Damari, Paris and Darryl Jr.; two great-grandchildren; his mother, Juanita Brown (nee Williams); his brother, Willie (Renea) Toler Jr; his aunt Wilma Roach; and cousins, Wendy, Dani, Derrick and Barry. Colionne’s father, Nick Toler, preceded him in death.
Our sincere condolences to his family. Rest in peace, Nick.
Visitation is scheduled for Jan. 10, from 4 to 9 p.m., with services on Jan. 11, at 11 a.m., followed by private interment, at Countryside Funeral Homes & Crematory, Bartlett, at 950 S. Bartlett Road in Bartlett, Illinois. In lieu of flowers, contributions to the American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org, or St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, www.stjude.org, are appreciated.
For more information on Nick Colionne’s services, click here
“Around 2004, I took a call from John Ertl, a promoter in Milwaukee, saying ‘Hey Art, there’s this guitarist in Chicago just emerging nationally you should take a look at for Catalina Island. I looked. I listened. And, we had Nick first onstage at the Catalina Island JazzTrax Festival that October.
He was such a strong live performer that when we brought him back in 2006 we booked him for two consecutive weekends. He played our historic Avalon Ballroom eight times, our Wrigley Ranch outdoor venue once, our Unplugged at Descanso Beach once, and on our floating stage at the Big Bear Lake JazzTrax Summer Music Festival once, and even co-hosted that mountain lake festival with me in 2013.
Oh, and once on a JazzTrax Baseball Train Excursion, Nick flew to Memphis to join up with us so he could play his guitar unplugged on the train at midnight, as we chugged from Memphis towards his hometown of Chicago.
One of his first guest appearances on the ‘JazzTrax Radio Show,’ he explained how he watched his first hit ‘High Flyin’ make the Billboard charts. He was so unpretentious, he couldn’t believe that his song was on a Billboard chart. Wow! Then, he was stunned as he watched it climb, and climb, and climb. If I’m remembering correctly, he made it to No. 2 and then got stuck behind like Boney James. But so modest, he simply made a copy of that chart and taped it to his wall ’cause he never thought it’d happen again. He took it as such an honor. Little could he have even imagined how many No. 1 hits he would accumulate the next 16 years, let alone that he would become the only artist ever to score five consecutive Billboard No. 1s off the same 2016 album, The Journey.
His passion past music was fishing.
He was often off before sunrise to his favorite Illinois lake to spend the day catching them. His agent once told me that Nick would wait by the phone for that call to come for his return to Catalina Island. Sure, to play at the festival but to fish in an ocean as well. He’d always come in a day or two earlier for that purpose. I once arrived, and as I got off the boat, there was Nick on the pier, fishing pole in hand, catching them from the Pacific Ocean.”
Rest in Peace Nick.
Art Good, JazzTrax festival producer and syndicated radio host
“That man was something special. The way he played, of course, … but it was his manner of speaking that drew you in … with that soft, low mellifluous voice. There was his outsized warmth and the way he made everyone around him feel so ’seen.’ Not to mention the way he wore a suit. There will never be another who dressed better!
Nick’s passing is a huge loss for our community and for music in general. We will miss him greatly but thankfully, he left us a symphony of his beautiful music to enlighten the path forward. He was that kind of guy.”
Dave Koz, multi-Grammy-nominated saxophonist
Nick Colionne has been a cherished member of the Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest family since his first performance in 2006 when he was part of the Jason Miles-produced ‘The Music of Marvin Gaye & Motown’ concert.
Since then, Nick has performed at every fest, and was scheduled to be a major part of the 31st edition in April.
Many years, Nick performed in multiple concerts and jams. He was always available to share his talents to help make the fest successful.
Simply, Nick was a special, genuine, likable and lovable human being.
The many heartfelt tributes shared by fellow jazz musicians, adoring fans and appreciative presenters clearly tell a story of a man who lived life to the fullest and who was loved by everyone.
Sadly, Nick is gone, but he will never be forgotten by the Berks Jazz Fest family.
He left all of us with many musical memories to cherish.
The Berks Jazz Fest will remember and honor Nick’s musical legacy in April.”
John Ernesto, producer of the Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest
“Nick was not only one of the most talented, best-dressed and hardest working entertainers in the industry, but truly one of the most genuine, loving, caring, funny and humble human beings that this world has been blessed with. For the last 20 years, Nick has not only been one of my best friends, but also a big brother and mentor in my life.
I first met him on a Smooth Jazz Cruise 20 years ago while I was still a teenager, and our connection and chemistry both on and off stage was instant! He gave me the nickname ‘E.D.’ on the cruise during one of his late-night jam sessions that he hosted, and that has stuck with me ever since. My parents were with me on that cruise, and Nick promised my dad at that time that he wouldn’t ever have to worry about me on the road because I would always have a big brother looking out for me in the music industry. That was so comforting to my dad, and he always stayed close with my family; he literally became family to us.
Since that cruise, we went on to perform dozens of shows together worldwide. I remember one show in particular we did together in my hometown, Tampa, back in 2006, that I’ll never forget. We were performing in front of a sold-out crowd on the beach in the middle of the summer, and we were just having the time of our lives together onstage, even making inside jokes towards each other throughout the performance. At the end of the show, I went out into the audience as I normally do during my performances and asked Nick to come and join me. We jammed and walked around the audience going through every single aisle of a crowd of 2,000 people! After that last song, the crowd completely erupted and started chanting: ‘Encore, encore, encore…’ We ended up performing five encore songs for almost another full hour entirely in the audience side by side until it started raining.
Exhausted and completely drenched from sweat and rain, we looked at each other and said that we have to do this again! We gave ourselves the nickname ‘Thunder N’ Lightning.’ He was thunder and I was the lightning. After that show, that became a staple in all of our performances together, performing side by side going through the aisles, having fun with the crowd, and always giving 110 percent of ourselves until we had nothing left. During our shows, he would always look at me and ask me, ‘Are you ready baby boy?’ I’d say, ‘Let’s go get ’em Nicky Nick,’ and then we would both go together into the audience and give them the ‘Thunder N’ Lightning’ experience.
I’m really going to miss moments like that sharing the stage with him. I had both a musical and personal connection with Nick unlike any person I’ve ever met in my life. Through the years, Nick definitely fulfilled his promise to my dad, always looking out for me on the road and constantly calling to check up on me both personally and professionally. We spoke almost every week and shared so much, always supporting and encouraging one another. We literally just had spoken a week ago for at least an hour or so (which was the norm), making jokes, talking about life, reflecting on 2021, and making plans for 2022.
His life was taken way too soon, but Nick really did live life to the fullest, made a huge impact in everyone’s lives with whom he came into contact, and taught all of us how to be our authentic selves. He always told me, ‘Do YOU baby boy,’ and I will always continue to do that.
His beautiful legacy will continue to live on for generations to come, and our lifelong bond is one that I will always cherish.
There will never be another like him and we will always remember you, Nicky Nick! As your baby brother, I promise to always celebrate you and make you proud. Love you always and forever, and I know that you’re still looking after me from above!”
Eric Darius, saxophonist
“It was formal night on the Smooth Jazz Cruise and everyone was wondering what Nick would be wearing. After a week of matching suits, shirts, hatbands, ties and, of course, Gator shoes, we expected Nick to go all out. All night no one saw Nick. Not backstage, not in the dining room, not at the buffet. No Nick.
Finally, after midnight we find him upstairs in the Crow’s Nest Bar. Formal night was over, and Nick was casual, which was still better dressed than we were. All Nick said was ‘berry socks.’ What the hell did that mean? He said he brought his berry suit, his berry hat, his berry tie, his berry shoes, but forgot his berry socks. Nick could not leave his room without berry socks.
His guitar tech asked why he didn’t wear black socks, at which point Nick let loose on him with a few choice words direct from Chicago. That’s when we all learned whatever you do, you do not wear black socks with a berry suit.
My best memories will always be laughing with him. We miss you Nick.”
Alonzo Bodden, comedian
“I met Nick on one of the Smooth Jazz Cruises, while playing with guitarist Norman Brown, and I attended his after-hours jam session. The fans stayed up after midnight to kick it, while Nick and the fellas picked some fun tunes to play to entertain them. He brought together various musicians that usually don’t get a chance to jam together, and everybody was in on the collective musical experience!
Nick Colionne represented Chicago well, with his Stacy Adams suit, tie, hat, shirt and socks to match. I used to chuckle to myself wondering how in the world did he fit that Crayola box attire in those suitcases without a crease or wrinkle? Nonetheless, we all looked forward to seeing what he was going to don next.
After sitting in on his jam sessions, he liked my playing, and we exchanged numbers and talked about music and the business. I told him I wanted a record deal, and he said, ‘I can help you with that. I will call Chack [David Chackler], he listens to me. I don’t know why he does, but he do!’ Nick was right, and Chackler signed me to Nu Groove Records.
I really grew to enjoy ‘Uncle Nick’s’ music from playing it on my radio show, ‘The Pink Room’ on Solar Radio and WorldwideJazzRadio.com. He was often in the mix playing upbeat funky grooves, jazzy bedroom music and melodic baritone vocalizing. This week I dedicated my whole show to several of the songs in his extensive catalog, from his 1994 It’s My Turn CD to the Influences CD in 2014 to his current 2020 CD, Finger Painting. He said that music notes were colors and he used his guitar to paint the notes that became melodies.
I will miss talking to Nick through those snow-packed Chicago winters to the worldwide lockdown due to the pandemic. His smile, his music, his hugs, his jokes, his colorful style will be missed by his smooth jazz family. Rest in Heaven Uncle Nick.”
Gail Jhonson, pianist, composer, music director, educator