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Tim Collins: Mixing It Up

Alan Bryson By

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I love simple melodies that I want to keep singing over and over again. I want to feel the same chills when we play it that I do when I hear Björk sing it.
Tim Collins likes to mix it up. It starts at home; the vibraphonist is married to a successful concert violinist and is intimately connected to the world of classical music. Recording with pianist Matthias Bublath, Collins has also worked with guitarist Charlie Hunter, who produced his second album, mixing rock, jazz, and string quartets. He seeks melodies and inspiration without regard to genre, covering songs by artists a disparate as Tom Petty and Björk on Castles and Hilltops (Nineteen-Eight Records, 2011), his most recent recording.

In the two short years since he's resettled in Munich from New York, after a short stay in Salzburg, Collins has learned German, landed teaching jobs at the Bavarian International School and the New Jazz School of Munich, released Castles and Hilltops, and taken his place alongside Matthias Bublath, Martin Scales, Ulrich Wangenheim, Tom Reinbrecht, and Christoph Holzhauser as a driving force on the Munich jazz scene.

As seems to be the case with many vibraphonists, he started out on drums and piano before taking up marimba and vibes. Thanks in part to the physicality of the instrument, he's a dazzling soloist on stage with a fiery impassioned energy and a soulful inclination that would also work well in rock, soul, blues, and jam settings. At the same time, his considerable musical training and ample skills, in classical music and jazz, give him the ability to handle the intricacy and harmonics of very demanding music. This openness and solid musical foundation are also evident in his engaging compositions.

Chapter Index
  1. Living & Working in Europe
  2. Castles and Hilltops
  3. Musical Development

Living & Working in Europe

All About Jazz: When people you meet in Europe hear you are from New York, they probably envision NYC. But in reality, you grew up near Lake Champlain on the border to Vermont, and relatively close to Montreal. Aside from language differences and cruising along the Autobahn at 110 mph, how would you characterize the adjustment of living in Bavaria or Salzburg?

Tim Collins: Hmmm, well let me say that moving to Salzburg was definitely an adjustment, but then moving to Munich afterwards seemed like an adjustment back in the direction of what I was used to. Once you get past the language difference, to me Munich actually feels a lot like the U.S. Nowadays, it's easy to call overseas with Skype and stuff, and it's not too hard for me to bring my American habits with me—like watching Yankees games for example—the only problem is that they are on at 1:00am, German time. Ugh.

AAJ: Your German is coming along quite well, growing up so close to Canada, did you study French?

TC: Vielen Dank. I actually took four years of French in high school, but I had no desire to learn it, and as a result I only know how to say one or two things that are basically useless [laughs]. I've learned so much more German in two years than I ever did French. My family has a lot of languages in it though, my sister speaks fluent French, and my grandparents can speak Hungarian, French, German, English, and I think also Spanish.

AAJ: What has surprised you most about living in Europe?

TC: How easy it is to ride a bicycle everywhere—not just for fun, but as an actual mode of transportation. Also the fact that it's possible to have a part-time teaching job that still pays health insurance benefits. Hint, hint.

AAJ: As a jazz musician what are the advantages and disadvantages of living in a city like Salzburg or Munich as compared to NYC?

TC: Well I guess there's some obvious ones and some unexpected ones too. New York is amazing and there are so many musicians to be inspired from or to play with—but it can also be a nightmare for someone like me who can't make up his mind.

Salzburg's main advantage for me was the access to classical music, which was really inspiring. I saw a performance of Mozart's "Requiem," but it was an actual requiem mass on All Souls Day (which is Halloween in the States.) Munich is a great mix of both though. There are lots of good musicians here, and there is definitely a strong jazz audience. I'm also teaching a lot, which keeps me inspired and helps my German.

AAJ: You've literally worked with musicians from around the globe. Has it been your experience that music transcends nationality and culture?

TC: Yea, for sure. I may not be able to speak the same language as someone, but when we play music together it still forms a connection. That's actually one of the things I incorporate into the classroom when I teach.

AAJ: How about the differences in audiences in various countries, anything stand out?

TC: It's funny, I played a concert in Oslo last year with a great Norwegian guitarist named Bjorn Solli, and the audience just sat there looking so bored and I thought, "My God, these people are really hating this." Then afterwards they kept telling us how much they really loved it and so on.

I like playing in the little towns outside of major cities in Europe. Very often the crowds are really excited to see live music. They sit and listen, but yell and scream after solos or the tune ends. And they always stay for both sets.


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