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Columns > Mike Gruenberg - In My Life

Published: 2010/10/30
by Mike Gruenberg

Nick Colionne and Steve Cole: 21st Annual Rehoboth Beach Autumn Jazz Festival

Photo courtesy of Mary Helms

In My Life

I’ve never been a big fan of outdoor festivals. Could be because the first music festival I attended was Woodstock. Hard to top that one! I usually don’t like sitting anywhere outside where the weather may be a factor in interfering with my ability to hear live music. I don’t like to be surrounded by large crowds of people. I am appalled at sound systems in open air arenas that sometimes sound tinny and distant. If I have to be outside, then a large screen monitor showing the band is a necessity. But then it occurs to me that if I have to watch a monitor of a live performance while sitting outside, then my preference would be to sit inside a concert hall, with good acoustics, a manageable crowd and be comfortable. So, when our friends invited my wife and me to spend the week-end with them at the 21st Annual Rehoboth Beach Autumn Jazz Festival, I expected much of the music to be outside, so I tried to accentuate the positives and for starters, packed a few sweaters.

Besides being happy to be sharing a week-end with these friends, another draw for me was spending time at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. Just a short, three hour drive from our home in Maryland took us to the quaint and popular town on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean that is the week-end retreat destination for many Maryland, DC and Philadelphia residents called Rehoboth Beach. It was clear that there were many people from the Philadelphia area there with the preponderance of people wearing Phillies baseball caps and shirts. Fortunately, I left my Mets jacket at home which helped me to avoid any unpleasant conversations with Phillies fans. As it ironically turned out on Saturday night, I watched the NL Division Series game with a Phillies fan and he was quite peasant even though his team lost.

Anyway, Rehoboth boasts a 1 mile boardwalk, clean, sandy beaches, many fine restaurants and an annual jazz festival to go along with year-round activities that take advantage of this beautiful setting.

This was the 21st edition of the jazz festival. Musicians can be heard in restaurants, churches, in front of various shops and virtually everywhere during this five day festival. Much of the money raised from the purchase of tickets goes for medical research for prostate cancer initiatives, breast cancer initiatives and cardio-vascular initiatives. So, not only can one enjoy great music, but at the same time money is being raised for research to eliminate some of the most challenging afflictions. The Beebe Medical Center in Delaware is the primary recipient of the funds raised for research.

While walking along the main shopping district on Saturday afternoon, we came upon the Rehoboth Band Shell where a singer in the style of Sinatra was singing with a big band backing him. His name is John Signorello and he treated the audience to great interpretations of big band era tunes. Although the wind was steadily blowing, John kept right on singing and swinging much to the delight of the audience.

After some hot coffee to warm up after that last performance, we went to see guitarist Nick Collionne and saxophone player, Steve Cole perform at the Epworth Methodist Church. The church is a relatively new building and as such has a very open and bright feel in the main sanctuary. Video screens are present both in the front and back of the sanctuary and the acoustics are top notch. Moreover, sightlines are excellent from wherever you sit, so it came as no surprise to me that I was about to hear and see a great show provided by the musicians.

Nick and Steve had a backup band that included keyboards, bass and drums, each of whom turned out to be virtuoso musicians in their own right. Nick came out first with his trademark three piece white suit, along with white shoes and a panama hat. While it could be argued that his appearance looked like he just left a casting call for a follow-up film to a new chapter of “Superfly”, any thought that his choice of sartorial splendor masked inadequate musical talent was dispelled immediately as he played his first song with elegance, grace and soul.
Nick comes from Chicago, His first album, “It’s My Turn” was released in 1994 followed by “Arrival” in 1996 and “The Seduction” in 1999. His breakthrough album was released in 2003 called “Just Come On In” and contained the hit single, “High Flyin’” which hit # 2 on the Radio & Records airplay chart. He followed that up with “It’s Been Too Long” from the same album and that tune was a Top 20 single.

At the 2007 Canadian Smooth Jazz Awards, Nick succeeded Chris Botti as “International Instrumental Artist of the Year”. His two most recent albums are “Keepin’ It Cool” (2006) and the latest, “No Limits” released in 2008. Nick has a very fluid style of playing and is able to engage with the audience through stories in between songs and even venturing off the stage to play his songs. And by the way, his James Brown imitation at the end of the show was amazing and he and Steve left the stage to standing ovations.

Conversely, Steve Cole stays on stage while playing, but is probably one of the finest sax players I had not known about until I first saw him at the festival. Also from Chicago, Steve is a classically trained musician and at age 18 was a soloist for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. He later turned his attention to jazz and has been a success ever since. He currently can be heard every Wednesday at 7:00PM on WLFM radio on Chicago‘s cool jazz station, “Sittin’ In With Steve Cole”.

Besides being a phenomenal musician, he has an undergraduate degree from Northwestern and also earned an MBA which allows him to be Professor of Music Business Management at Columbia College in Chicago. Both a Professor and Musician at the same time!

The bottom line is that all the educational degrees are fine, but for me it was the music on that sunny and windy day in Rehoboth. They played individually and collectively and put on an incredible two hour show. And after the show, they came out and spoke to the audience; signed CD’s, took pictures with their old and new fans and were generally two of the nicest guys you’d ever want to meet.

If you bought any of Nick’s albums after the show, you got an Advance Copy of Steve’s soon to be released CD, “Moonlight”. Prior to this new record, Steve has seven other albums to his credit. He has had # 1 hits on the Jazz charts. His second album,”Between Us” charted a #1 hit with the track “Got It Goin’ On”.

For me, the beauty of the show was the way the tenor sax and electric guitar blended so beautifully together. Nick and Steve had obviously performed together before and this contributed to their noticeable ease on stage with one another. It was a beautiful afternoon in a beautiful church with the afternoon sun shining in.

Steve Cole Discography

• Stay Awhile (1998)
• Between Us (2000)
• NY/LA (2003)
• Spin (2005)
• True (2006)
• The Sax Pack (2008)
• The Pack Is Back (2009)
• Moonlight (2010

Nick Colionne Discography

• It’s My Turn (1994)
• Arrival (1996)
• Seduction (1999)
• Just Come On In (2003)
• Keepin’ It Cool (2006)
• No Limits (2008)

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