Pat Collins on new jazz album, KSS days

One of the many professional musicians that got their start here in Qualicum Beach released a new album earlier this year. We had the opportunity to talk to Pat Collins, an alumnus of Kwalikum Secondary School, about the early days at KSS and his successful career in jazz.

Collins began piano lessons at the age of six and, encouraged by his high school band teacher Bill Cave, switched to electric bass at thirteen. He teamed up with classmate Phil Dwyer. “Phil and I did duets and got the jazz bug around the same time. We’d get together after school and listen to Oscar Peterson records and try to figure out what he was doing. Our first gig was playing at a high school friend’s birthday party.”

“Then we met Rich Cave. Rich was a really good drummer at his young age, so we formed a trio, probably in grade 9. Rich was the drummer for the Arrowsmith Big Band, and I was playing trumpet in the band at that time.” The trio – Triple Image – played together through the rest of high school.

Triple Image — Phil Dwyer, Pat Collins and Rich Cave.
Photo courtesy of Rich Cave.

When recently contacted, Rich was effusive in his comments about Pat’s playing: “He had more talent than anyone I’ve played with.” Rich recounted a humorous and telling episode from their teenage days. “Pat lost all of his bass music for every tune they played with the Arrowsmith Big Band.” But Pat carried on “… he never missed a note! Played flawlessly, with no music, and with no practising!”

As talented as he was, it wasn’t always a slam dunk that Pat would go on to a professional career in music. Collins explains: “When I was in high school, I was pretty serious about golf too. I worked at the QB Memorial Golf Course for about 4 years.” He had no grand visions of being on the Tour but “at one point, I was pretty serious about considering being a club pro and running a golf course, so I did have to decide.”

Collins says he is forever grateful for the teachers and mentors at Kwalikum Secondary School. Another mentor soon helped him focus on his music. “I was so lucky. I was in Grade 12, still taking piano lessons from Joan Gosselin who was just a fantastic piano teacher. Rick Kilburn moved just up the street from where I lived, so all of a sudden I’ve got this world class bassist who had been living in New York City for the past 20 years. The piano lessons went by the wayside and I started taking bass lessons with Rick. I did two years with him privately, and then two years with him at Malaspina (VIU). I owe him a lot.”

His studies then took him to Boston’s Berklee College of Music. In 1988, newly married, Pat and Sherri moved to Toronto. “The day we moved to Toronto, Phil [Dwyer] was playing at George’s Spaghetti House with Don Thompson, and introduced us.” Collins ended up playing in the Don Thompson Quartet for a few years.

Collins credits a bit of good timing for getting off to a quick career start in Toronto.  “When I moved to Toronto in fall of ’88, all the top bass players in the city seemed to be on the road, or were injured, so all of a sudden there were all of these gigs that people needed bass players for. It was great for me because I met all kinds of people when I first got there. Then Moe [Koffman] needed a bass player to play in his band full-time. I was so naïve I didn’t even realize that I was auditioning for it. I just thought I was doing a night with Moe at George’s. The next day he called and offered me the bass chair and stand!”

In addition to his busy performing schedule, Collins is also an educator on the music faculty of Mohawk College in Hamilton. When asked what he enjoys most – composing, arranging, performing, recording, teaching – Collins admitted that he doesn’t consider himself a prolific composer. “Composing and arranging is not my primary focus. Playing is my favourite, and I love teaching too. I practice every day.”

After performing on more than 50 recordings as a sideman, Collins recorded his debut CD In the Moment, released in 2005 on the Cornerstone label.

For 2019/20, Collins arranged a year on sabbatical from Mohawk College to enable him to focus on the recording of Time Well Spent. “It was nice to have the time to compose and record, and do all the mixing and mastering. It was nice to not have to rush it and just really make sure it was as I wanted it. The actual recording only took a day and a half, because we’ve all played together a lot.” The Pat Collins Trio includes Tom Szczesniak on accordion and Reg Schwager on guitar.

Pat Collins

“We recorded it live off the floor which basically means we were all in the same room at the same time. There were no overdubs or anything like that. It was just push the button and play. I think that vibe is sort of captured in the recording as well. There are little mistakes that we would probably be the only ones who would notice, but I like that – it sounds natural. It sounds like we were just playing which was exactly what we were doing.”

The resulting music is superbly crafted. Find a quiet corner, slip on the headphones – it is truly Time Well Spent. You can order a copy of the CD through Pat Collin’s website .

Collins regularly returns to QB to see his mom and connect with friends. Last November, on a more leisurely trip thanks to his sabbatical, he arranged with Dan Craven to drop by KSS and talk to Dan’s music students. “That was really cool. It was a thrill for me to have a chance to do that again. They sounded so good .. way better than I was playing at that age! I was just amazed.” 

It was a pleasant reminder of the nurturing Collins received in his formative years as a musician. “From my perspective, Bill Cave is the godfather of all that. Dave Stewart came after Bill, and then Dan Craven after Dave. There is such a legacy of great music teachers there.”

“Seems like half of the musicians in and around Toronto are from BC. There’s such a tradition and culture of fantastic dedicated music teachers on the whole west coast.”