"Jazz is a huge part of what I learned about music, but it's just a small piece of what I do," says singer-songwriter, saxophonist, flute-player, pianist, and bandleader Jay Collins. With his Kings County Band, Collins mixes up Blues, New Orleans rhythms, and classic Soul into a modern patchwork of root-bound sound.
One of the most sought-after touring musicians in American music, Jay is perhaps best known for his saxophone, flute, and horn-section arrangements for many artists including Gregg Allman, Allman Brothers Band, Levon Helm (of The Band), Donald Fagen and the Dukes of September (w/ Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs), James Hunter, Chris Bergson, Bobby Sanabria, and jazz greats such as the late Andrew Hill, Jacky Terrasson, Ed Cherry, and the late bassist LeRoy Vinnegar. In recent years, Mr. Collins has also become recognized for his gritty singing and his singular songwriting.
“Collins’ soulful croak definitely deserves to be heard”- Time Out, NYC
Coming up as a young player on the late '80s and early '90s music scene in Portland, Oregon, Collins caught what he considers to be the city's last wave of a golden age.
"Lots of jazz musicians from L.A. had migrated there in the '80s for the quality of life," he explains. "You could still learn to play by hanging around with older musicians, and learning “on the job." Collins played some of his first sax gigs with Portland mainstays Ron Steen and Mel Brown, then went on to play with West Coast bassist Leroy Vinnegar, and also came East to record at famed jazz studio Rudy Van Gelder’s, in New Jersey, with hard-bop drummer Dick Berk.
After cutting his teeth in Portland, Jay Collins made the move to New York City and quickly became a force to be reckoned with. His focus was hard-hitting instrumental jazz. By 1993 Collins had established himself in New York’s East Village, assembled a band, and by the end of the '90s had recorded three CD’s: Uncommon Threads, Reality Tonic and Cross Culture, all on small, independent labels. He recorded and toured with French pianist Jacky Terrasson on Blue Note Records, and played gigs with the legendary pianist and composer Andrew Hill, whom he'd first met in his Portland days. "In the East Village in the '90s there was all kinds of music going on….little places with live bands every couple of blocks."
During his time in Manhattan, Collins also immersed himself in the rhythmically charged world of Latin music. He spent 1996-2004 leading East-Village sensation Mambo Macoco (with master percussionist Eddie Bobe’), playing with Nuyorican percussionist Bobby Sanabria Y Ascension, and touring Cuba and the Caribbean. "Learning about Afro-Cuban rhythms and their connection to American and New Orleans music are the keys to what I'm doing now," says Collins.
“This robust tenor saxophonist is a great example of a player whose varied experiences nurture a deeper musical personality.”- Village Voice, NYC
In 1999 Collins felt the pull to change musical direction; he formed a new band and began to move beyond the boundaries of instrumental music. "I needed something more… I had always liked poetry, so at first I tried putting my poetry to music," he says, though he had never actually sung in public until he was 30 years old. "In the beginning, my idea was to have someone else sing, but then I decided to take singing lessons and do it myself." Collins kept up his sax and flute chops as a sideman while working out his original songs and vocals on piano. It was while playing a NYC jazz gig in 2001 that he was recommended for a spot in the group of legendary rocker Gregg Allman of the Allman Brothers Band. While touring and writing horn section arrangements for the Gregg Allman Band, Jay occasionally plays with the Allman Brothers Band as well, and in 2003, performed on their gold and platinum selling DVD, Live at the Beacon Theater.
The new gig with Gregg helped convince Jay to develop his singing voice further, and embrace another direction towards blues-based rock. It was a natural move, for Jay had grown up playing along with his stepfather’s collection of records by blues legends. "I knew the songs of Robert Johnson, Freddie King, B.B. King and the Allman Brothers because I grew up hearing them," he says. "My stepfather is a guitar player, he's African-American, and his record collection was heavy on the blues. Working with Gregg sent me back in that direction. It's also really informed my singing! I've learned a lot just from being onstage, night after night, standing next to such a great singer like Gregg.”
It was during this time he started his group, Jay Collins and the Kings County Band.
In 2004, the first CD by the Jay Collins Band, Poem For You Today (Hipbone Records) featured Collins on sax, vocals, and flute. "The vocal influences are mostly Tom Waits, Ray Charles and Dr. John," says Collins.
"With a surprisingly gruff voice, he delivers his rollicking original tunes that blend the down-and-out sensibility of Tom Waits with the barrelhouse American roots sound of The Band.” -San Francisco Chronicle/Contra Costa Times (CA)
At the Brooklyn recording sessions, Collins met vocalist Amy Helm (Ollabelle) and went on to join Amy's dad, Levon Helm (the former vocalist and drummer of The Band), as a member of his band, playing at Helm's Midnight Rambles in Woodstock. Jay played on 2 Grammy-winning albums with Levon-- Electric Dirt (2009), and Ramble at the Ryman (2011).
“Working with Levon taught me so much about playing simple! His groove on the drums was relentless and when he sang a song, you believed every word.”
Jay self-released his band’s 2nd CD, The Songbird and the Pigeon in 2007, and, after having moved to Woodstock, began regularly performing with his band in New York City, up-state NY, and the surrounding Tri-State areas.
While continuing to tour with both Helm and Allman, and front Jay Collins and The Kings County Band as lead vocalist and song-writer, Jay has also worked as a horn soloist and/or arranger in the last few years with British neo-soulman James Hunter, singer Ray LaMontagne, drummer Jaimoe’s Jass Band, guitarist/singer Chris Bergson, guitarist Ed Cherry, and Donald Fagen’s
“Dukes of September” (featuring Fagen, Boz Scaggs, and Michael McDonald).
“Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jay Collins has a reputation among his peers for being an uncompromisingly serious musician.”
Jay’s newest (2012) CD is called “Rivers, Blues, and Other People". It was recorded at Levon Helm Studios and features guest spots by Helm, Larry Campbell, Donald Fagen, Jim Weider, and Bruce Katz, along with band members such as Scott Sharrard and Dred Scott.
“Rivers, Blues, and Other People makes a resounding case for Collins the singer, songwriter, and bandleader. Any and every roots fan and Band nut would do well to buy this album right away.” -Hittin’ the Note Magazine
“This record is a minor masterpiece, showing the best of what Woodstock is about in 2012….a master player, Collins makes music that has a latent Lowell George vibe….”- Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY)