Who says that all sax players with world-class jazz chops must restrict themselves to the Blue Notes and Village Vanguards of the world?
Not Jay Collins.
A product of Portland, Oregon’s surprisingly vibrant jazz scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Jay’s footing in the jazz world is more than solid. It’s not just any jazzman who can say they played with greats such as Kenny Barron, Ben Riley, Jacky Terrasson and Andrew Hill. While it would never occur to most saxophonists in Jay’s position to stray from the world of strictly-jazz, Collins followed his heart and stepped out on a limb.
Formed in 1999, Jay’s group, the Kings County Band features blues and New Orleans-flavored sounds bolstered not only by Jay’s soulful saxophone, but also by his formidable talents as both a singer and a songwriter. Relentlessly churnin’ out’ greasy grooves, the band has recorded two albums and tours about the United States. Add to that Jay’s stints with Greg Allman, Ray LaMontagne, and the Dukes of September featuring Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs, and Michael McDonald – you’ve basically got yourself a versatile powerhouse of a saxophone soul machine.
Doron Orenstein: What was it that inspired you to make music your life?
Jay Collins: Hearing a record called Jazz At The Philharmonic 1946 with Lester Young and Charlie Parker. I would have to say though, that music chose me, not the other way around. Once I started, I could not stop.
DO: What do you find yourself practicing the most these days?
JC: Working out my own ideas and playing them over and over again striving for clearness of articulation, fullness of tone (note: LOUDNESS does not equal FULLNESS), and soul content. I also practice my vocals a lot.
DO: What have you been listening to lately?
JC: Ray Charles and associated players (David Fathead Newman, Don Wilkerson, Hank Crawford), Dizzy Gillespie, King Curtis, a ton of classic soul records (O.V. Wright, Sam and Dave, Johnny Taylor, anything from Stax, Al Green, Aretha, etc), Leon Russell, Stuff (a funk group from the 70’s), lots of old blues (Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Albert King, etc), Stanley Turrentine and Gene Harris, tons of male gospel singing groups from the 50’s (Soul Stirrers, Swan Silvertones, Five Blind Boys of Alabama, etc), Dr. John, songwriters like Leonard Cohen, Kris Kristofferson, John Prine. And always, Eddie Harris, Woody Shaw, Gene Ammons. Sometimes Sonny Stitt, Oscar Peterson.
DO: What would you say is the skill or attribute that’s helped you the most as a musician?
JC: Tenacity, Determination.
DO: What’s the single best piece of advice you’ve been given over the course of your playing career?
JC: Hard to nail that down to one thing…I guess since everything I ever learned that was of value came from an older musician, it would have to be, “Listen to, and learn from, your elders.” Somebody must have said that to me along the way.
DO: What’s the next musical frontier for Jay Collins?
JC: My musical frontiers are tied to my professional frontiers, so the next frontier would be getting more work for my own band and getting more of my songs heard by others. I have a new CD I am finishing up, so that is also the next frontier!
DO: For those new to your music, which recording would you suggest they pick up?
JC: That depends on which Jay Collins you want to hear–songwriter/singer/sax player, or saxophone/flute instrumentals. For the former, I would say that the song Poem For You Today off the CD of same name, would be a good one. A good instrumental would be, “Cradle of Civilization” also off of the Poem For You Today CD. That CD is now out-of-print, but mp3’s should still be available.
I did a CD early in my career backed by Kenny Barron, Ben Riley, and others on the Reservoir label and I am particularly proud of a version we did of “Played Twice” by Monk. This, sadly, is also out-of-print.
There was a very interesting instrumental CD I did some years back, called Cross Culture, which was a melding of jazz and world music and featured oud and bansuri, as well as saxophones. That was a great band. That one is still physically available.
DO: What’s your saxophone equipment setup?
- On tenor sax, I am using a brass Phil Barone USA piece, from 1998. I don’t know the size, but it has 108 on the side. It must be around a 7-star, because it feels very close to my other piece, which is a brass New York Otto Link, #7, that was re-faced by Ralph Morgan himself. This piece is from the 1940’s and I used it for many years. Lately, since I have been playing with a lot of electric instruments and louder bands on bigger stages, the Barone piece works better for me with it’s brighter sound and upper register responsiveness.
- On baritone sax, I use a brass Otto Link #6 made in the 1960’s. That one was also re-done by Ralph Morgan.
- On soprano, I have a rubber John Van Wie piece that I don’t know anything about, but it plays beautifully. I got it sometime in the 90’s in New Jersey.
- On all these horns, I prefer Rico Royal #3 1/2 size reeds. Regular Ricos will also do. Note concerning reeds: I work on my reeds with knife and sandpaper, so really, any brand reed would probably be OK, as long as I have time to fool with it and it is at least a #3 in strength.