The small, dim-lit back room of the Appian Way restaurant
in Fountain Hills is the perfect setting for live jazz. Featuring numerous floor
to ceiling window-like paintings of a Tuscan landscape, the room feels open
and relaxed despite the physical closeness between the band and the audience.
The stage-less setup dissolves the distinct feeling of awe that tends to surround
musicians, leaving just the music to be enjoyed. Tonight’s feature: The
Mike Collins Trio.
Pianist Mike Collins seems uneasy addressing the small crowd that has assembled to hear the trio. “I’ve played for some pretty nice crowds while in Los Angeles, but it’s nice to be home,” the soft-spoken musician says.
Collins is currently a music student at the University of Southern California, home to not only the back to back NCAA Football National Champs, but an excellent music program as well. USC has boasted such talents as jazz piano guru Shelly Berg as an educator, undoubtedly an asset as Collins continues his education.
Thirty seconds into the opening tune, its clear Collins has talent. He plays with an intense virtuosity seemingly uncharacteristic of the person who had timidly addressed the audience. Equally mesmerizing on bass is well-known local professional and educator Steve Millhouse. On drums is John Lewis, whose fills remain aggressive yet not overpowering despite the need to play soft because of tonight’s broken PA system.
Each performer is showcased throughout the two hour set, with most tunes featuring solos by each member of the group. The band plays a decent mix of musical styles, featuring everything from fast bebop pieces, to beautiful ballads, to Latin influenced tunes. Collins’ musical talent is shown well in a piece he himself arranged entitled “There Will Never Be Another You.” Featuring an upbeat bebop-like tempo and spectacular solos by every member of the trio, “There Will Never Be Another You” stands out as the highlight of the evening and, hopefully, a foreshadowing of the promising future of Mike Collins.