Welcome to Jazz Guitar Hardball! This week we are putting the spotlight on Cal Collins (b.1933
- d. 2001), a relatively obscure – and under-celebrated – jazz guitarist who has been one of my favorites for decades.
In our modern era of studying jazz in the university, we run the risk of having many newer players sound quite the same in technique, in tone, in application of the traditional principles of jazz. Listen to FM jazz stations and it is often difficult to distinguish between many current jazz guitarists. Hale the likes of Cal Collins! Here is a self-taught player who learned on the street (and in his early days, on the farm!), by ear, without books, and disdained trying to read music…and the result was a unique, personal style that is instantly recognizeable to anyone who has listened to him one time. Cal was a down home guy, that liked to smoke, showed up at gigs rumpled, and overlooked the many cracks in his Gibson archtop as long as it sounded good; (he preferred the es-350 and L-7 style guitars and Gretsch archtops). He reached that goal we all strive for: an individual and highly evolved style that comes from inside, devoid of the pedantic influence of studying jazz in a formal setting.
I became aware of
Aside from simply enjoying his music, here’s the most important lesson we can learn from the self-taught-unschooled-play-from-the-heartCal Collins: If you’re in – or entering – a college jazz program -or if you are already a serious student of jazz guitar- it is important
to realize that the technical aspects of the style (scales, patterns, chords, exercises) are valuable in laying a foundation of technique,
but they are of secondary importance in the development of a unique individual style! Studying those technical aspects normally
will not increase one’s intuition, ones ear-to-hand skills (being able to recreate on the guitar what is first heard in one’s head),
and in general one’s capacity to hear and recreate stirring music. Like many players from that era,
*Many of his best recordings are out of print but can still be found on vinyl: Cincinnati to L.A.(Concord Jazz), In San Francisco (Concord Jazz), Blues on My Mind (Concord Jazz), By Myself (Concord Jazz), Cross Country (Concord Jazz), Crack'd Rib (Mo Pro). On CD although possibly out of print: Ohio Style (Concord Jazz)
For a very good interview with