Interview - Pat Collins
Pat Collins moved to Toronto in 1988 and has been very active on the Canadian jazz scene ever since, performing with such luminaries as Oscar Peterson, Dizzy Gillespie, Joe Henderson, Herb Ellis, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Cobb, Ed Bickert, Rob McConnell, Moe Koffman, Peter Appleyard, Diana Krall, , and many others. He has appeared as a sideman on approximately fifty recordings, and leads his own quartet that features Mike Murley, Reg Schwager and Barry Elmes. Pat joined the full time faculty of Mohawk College in 2005.
What are some important musical and other lessons you've learned that you can pass on to aspiring bassists?
I’m very lucky to have had some great teachers and mentors over the years. With many of these people, I don’t think I always fully realized or appreciated the extent to which they would affect and shape my approach not only to my bass playing, but to music I general.
One of my first “road gigs” was with the great vocal arranger, and pianist, Phil Mattson. In the group I was travelling with, there were six singers, called the “PM Singers”, and I was the bass player in the group’s rhythm section. We travelled all over the U.S. doing week long clinics at universities. Many of the people that attended the clinics were not necessarily vocalists, but every night they would each have to sing a tune that they had been working on that day, with the rhythm section. It was an eye opening experience to watch Phil make each of these people feel at ease, and be able to draw things out of each of the performances that I’m not sure the people realized they were capable of. This is something that I’ve never forgotten, and really helped me to understand the importance of being a good accompanist, something I always try to bring to the bandstand. To me, this is the primary function of a bass player – making the rest of the group you’re playing in sound good, and concerning yourself more so with the overall sound of the group, not your own performance.
What are three of your favourite recordings that you consider essential for any bassist to check out?
The first bass player that I made a conscious decision to study was Ray Brown. There are countless recordings of Ray’s that I could mention here, particularly the early recordings with the Oscar Peterson Trio. However, the first recording that really got me excited about playing the bass was a duo record he with Duke Ellington, called “This One’s For Blanton”.
Some of my favorite recordings are from the Miles Davis Quintet in the 1960’s, and if I had to pick one, I would choose the “My Funny Valentine” album, with Ron Carter on bass.
Finally, any recording with Paul Chambers. Let’s go with Hank Mobley’s classic, “Soul Station”. Too many to choose from!
Can you share some practice ideas? What should aspiring bassists focus on? What worked/works for you? I realize this is a very broad question that varies with individuals' needs, but I'm looking for some general ideas, and in particular what worked for you.
When I was a student, I wasn’t a particularly good at practicing. I loved to play, and played a lot, but didn’t always enjoy the solitude of the practice room. I think one of the traps that a lot of students fall into, is trying to cover too much material in their practice sessions. I think there’s a lot of be said for practicing one or two things in your practice session, and really getting into it – at times it’s almost meditative, and the time can really fly by.
Keep in mind that a lot of what you practice isn’t supposed to be mastered in one or two sessions, but is designed for the long term – be patient and don’t let yourself get frustrated.
I’m a big fan of practicing with a metronome. To me, practicing with a metronome is a great way to expose your rhythmic tendencies, work them out, and develop some confidence. Adopt the mindset that you’re leading the metronome, not following it – this will become a skill that you’re able to bring to the bandstand, and make you a stronger player in that environment.
Do you have any advice for overcoming difficulties or obstacles?
Patience, patience, patience. Embrace the challenge that what your difficulty or obstacle is presenting and enjoy the process you go through to figure things out. Once you have developed some problem solving skills, the next time you come across something that presents some difficulties, you’ll be better equipped to address that challenge.
Do you have any gear advice (specific pickups, strings, amps, etc. and what to look for)?
No. People that know me know that I would rather have a root canal than discuss gear! That being said, someone once told me that your instrument should be putting out what you’re putting into it. If you’re not finding this, whether it’s because of your bass, or other gear, take care of it – you don’t want to feel like you’re fighting anything.
What's coming up for you and how can we follow you (website, social media, etc,)?
I have a “birthday of significance” coming up on January 16, and I’ll be playing at The Rex with my quartet, Mike Murley, Reg Schwager and Barry Elmes. I recently recorded an album with guitarist, Nathan Hiltz that will be coming out soon, and we’ll be playing Wednesdays at the Rex throughout the month of January. I was lucky enough to be asked to play with the Canadian Jazz Quartet about a year and a half ago, and we’ll be playing the first Friday of every month at the Home Smith Bar, starting in January.
Feel free to follow me on Facebook, on Twitter @patcollinsbass, or check out my website, www.patcollinsbass.com. The website is a bit out of date, but it’s still a good way to contact me.
Any other thoughts to pass along?
The way the music business and the local scene has changed, I think now, more than ever it’s important that young musicians be open to playing different styles of music and be adaptable to different situations. Always approach every musical situation with professionalism and passion and you’ll get hired again. If you don’t think you’ll be able to bring this to the bandstand, don’t take the gig!