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Guitarist Spent 14 Years with Nat Cole TrioCopyright © 2001
John Collins was best known for the 14 years he spent playing in the Nat King Cole Trio. He joined the singer's group as a replacement for Oscar Moore in 1951, and remained with him until Cole's death in 1965.
His elegant, always swinging rhythm guitar style fitted perfectly into the singer's trio concept, and his astute feel for rich chords added essential texture and colour to the music. He was also a fine solo, with an inventive single line style.
He was born John Elbert Collins in Alabama, but grew up in Chicago. His first instrument was clarinet, but he switched quickly to guitar, and played in a band led his mother, pianist Georgia Gorham. He made the move to New York in the mid-30s, and worked with pianist Art Tatum (1935) and trumpeter Roy Eldridge (1936-40).
He accompanied Billie Holiday in the early 1940s, and worked with Benny Carter, Fletcher Henderson and Dizzy Gillespie before serving in the army during World War II. He played in various army bands, then resumed his musical career after leaving the service.
He worked with several top pianists before joining Nat King Cole, including Art Tatum again, Errol Garner and Billy Taylor, and recorded with Tadd Dameron and Fats Navarro.
He won his only poll award in 1947, when Esquire gave him their New Star award in the guitar category. He recorded only one album under his leadership, but is heard as a sideman on numerous recordings.
He led his own groups (including tours in Europe) after Cole's death. He accompanied singers Patti Page and Carmen MacRae, and worked with pianist Bobby Troup and bassist Ray Brown, among others.
In later years he rationed his performing, concentrating mainly on private teaching in California.
He died from cancer, and is survived by his wife, Naomi; two daughters, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.