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John Collins Dies at 88

John Collins, a guitarist who played rhythm for many of the leading jazz artists of the 1940s and 1950s, passed away Oct. 4 at his home in Los Angeles. He was 88.

Collins was born in Montgomery, Ala. on Sept. 20, 1913. He gained his early musical education at the feet of his mother, which was convenient because she was a bandleader and pianist named Georgia Gorham. He played in her band for a while, then began his professional career in 1935 as an accompanist for Art Tatum. From 1936 to 1940, he accompanied Roy Eldridge. He then worked with Billie Holiday, Lester Young, Fletcher Henderson and Benny Carter before being drafted to fight World War II. When he returned, he played with Slam Stewart’s trio, and had other gigs with Billy Taylor, Erroll Garner and Tatum.

He fell in with Nat “King” Cole in 1951, and stayed with him until Cole’s death from lung cancer in 1965, making several records with the golden-voiced crooner. He worked with pianist Bobby Troop until 1971, after which he played with Carmen McRae, Snooky Young, and Ray Brown. He also began a teaching career after settling in the Los Angeles area.

Not too many people know the name John Collins, but those who do invariably describe him as “underrated.” He played tasteful, restrained rhythm guitar that was perfectly suited to the mood and style of his musical teammates, and when he took a solo line the results were sophisticated and intriguing.

He is survived by his wife, Naomi; two daughters; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Originally Published