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Collins, John (Elbert)

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Collins, John (Elbert), pop-jazz guitarist best remembered as a member of Nat “King” Cole’s trio; b. Montgomery, Ala., Sept. 20, 1913. His mother was pianist-bandleader Georgia Gorham. He originally played clarinet, then switched to guitar, moved to Chicago and studied with Frank Langham. He worked (with his mother) in trumpeter Elbert B. Topp’s Orch. at Radio Inn, Chicago, in 1932, then played regularly in his mother’s band until early 1935. He was with Jimmy Bell and his Tampa Tunesters in spring 1935, then worked at Three Deuces, Chicago, with Art Tatum and Zutty Singleton before joining Roy Eldridge in Sept. 1936. He performed with Roy Eldridge in Chicago and N.Y. until 1940. In 1941–42 he worked for various leaders, including Lester Young (early 1941), Fletcher Henderson, and Benny Carter (1942). He served in the U.S. Army until 1946, then he joined the Slam Stewart Trio (spring 1946–48). Collins was in Paris in the Errol Garner Trio (May 1948), then worked mainly with pianist Billy Taylor until early 1951 (including brief spells with Coleman Hawkins, 1949, and Artie Shaw, late 1950). He was with Art Tatum Trio (May-August 1951), and then joined the Nat “King” Cole Trio on Sept. 5, 1951, and remained until that leader’s death in 1965. During the late 1960s Collins continued playing regularly, including a long spell with vocalist Bobby Troup’s Trio (1965–71). He worked with Cat Anderson in Calif, (spring 1971) and led his own quartet during the 1970s and 1980s, including a tour of France and Spain in 1983. He worked with Carmen McRae in 1988, and then gigged and taught private guitar lessons around Los Angeles in the early 1990s.

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