As a music industry veteran, Nick Colionne knows that steady gigs are to be prized and preserved. The contemporary jazz guitarist certainly feels that way about his regular date, even though he doesn't get paid for it.
For the past 18 years, the Chicago resident has been volunteering at St. Laurence School in suburban Elgin, Ill. Colionne is there ostensibly to teach guitar but his actual duties run more toward mentoring students through a wide range of music-oriented pursuits.
“I came there (initially) to help the school raise some money and the kids were into me and I was into them," Colionne told me a few years ago in an interview. "Next thing I knew, I was back every week."
Colionne’s ties to St. Laurence over the years have extended beyond those visits. He keeps in touch with many of his former students, offering them encouragement and advice in their lives and music.
"I went to a lot of shows in garages," he said. "They send me their little demos and stuff that they cut. I love being around kids because they keep me young. When you're around them, they say what's on their minds and they love you unconditionally."
The guitarist performs September 27 at Yoshi’s in San Francisco as part of the nightspot’s Smooth Jazz Series. The series concludes October 3 with Earl Klugh.
Colionne began playing guitar at age 9 and by 15 was performing professionally. His mother, however, laid down the law – Colionne must finish college before pursuing music full time. He did just that and went on to work with Natalie Cole, Curtis Mayfield and the Staples Singers. His songs have been recorded by the likes of Johnny Mathis and Paul Anka.
Colionne went solo more than a decade ago and has recorded for a series of albums, the latest being “Feel the Heat” (2011). He has a strong fan base but remains closest to his students.
“My only purpose to be there is to share whatever I can with them," Colionne said. "This is what God wants me to do, give something back."
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