Judy Collins on Her New “Live At The Town Hall, NYC” Album | Under The Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
Friday, September 17th, 2021  

Photo by Shervin Lainez

Judy Collins on Her New “Live At The Town Hall, NYC” Album

Keeping Her Mind on Her Music and Her Music on Her Mind

Aug 26, 2021 Photography by Shervin Lainez and Brad Trent Web Exclusive
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Grammy-winning musical emissary, Judy Collins, practices mindfulness. In fact, she has for sometime. Collins, who is known for her fluttering, buttery voice, original music, and impactful reinterpretations of all-time classics like “Send In the Clowns” and “Mr. Tambourine Man,” has also endured long stints recovering from significant illnesses in her life, from contracting polio in 1950 at 11 years old to later suffering from tuberculosis in 1962 after her debut performance at Carnegie Hall. In those isolated times, Collins focused pointedly on mental composure. It’s a super power, in a way, and one she uses today to remain a sought-after, precise performer at 82-years-old—exemplified on her new album, Live At The Town Hall, NYC, out tomorrow.

“It’s interesting,” Collins says. “In the cases in which I’ve been hospitalized, I always found, even before it was fashionable, time to be meditating. I was meditating to get through it, to get through these things that happened.”

It takes a great deal of mental acuity to be as fastidious a person and musician as Collins is and has been over—depending on how one counts—a nearly eight-decade career. As a young person, Collins read books, placed where song sheet music would normally be, as she practiced the piano, perfecting scales and sharpening her fingers’ muscle memory. As a vocalist, Collins is like a surgeon, ever-present, clear-headed and bent on getting each line right.

“It’s about the lyrics in the singing,” Collins says. “The phrasing and the clarity. If you can understand the lyrics, that’s a pretty good sign a singer is singing well. That was how I was trained. My father was a great singer. He was always understandable, so that was something to grow up with and be made aware of.”

Collins, who was born in Seattle, Washington in 1939, learned about music at the foot of her father. He was also the first person to put her on stage—at three years old. He was the first to show her that diligence pays off, too. Collins’ father, who was blind, was a songwriter, performer, and radio host. When Collins was born, he was playing around the Seattle-area and further into Idaho and Montana. Collins first stepped on stage at three in Butte to sing at one of her father’s shows.

“He said, ‘What do you want to sing?’” Collins remembers. “I said, ‘What should I sing?’ And he said, ‘Something you know,’ which is always good direction. So, I sang, ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas.’ But it was April!”

From there, Collins was hooked. She played piano, took lessons. She sang in choir. She absorbed her father’s standards, all those tunes from the Great American Songbook. This provided the foundation for a long career, which now includes a swath of awards and many coveted stage and screen appearances. Perhaps first on that list, is Collins’ appearance on The Muppet Show! Indeed, Collins had a longstanding relationship with the show’s creator, Jim Henson, who was also responsible for many others shows and movies. Collins even sang a song with everyone’s favorite imaginary hairy mastodon.

“I did a total of 16 different scenes with the Muppets before I went to England to do The Muppet Show with the great Jim Henson,” Collins says. “I loved them. I had a duet one day with Snuffleupagus! Jim was just a wonderful man, he had class.”

Photo by Brad Trent
Photo by Brad Trent

For Collins’ newest 12-song live album, she revisited the material from her 1964 debut show at Town Hall in New York City (the city in which she’s lived for much of her life). At the time, the world felt in similar upheaval as it does today, caught up in turmoil. The record begins with “Winter Sky,” one in which Collins sings about death and rebirth. Next is “Ramblin Boy,” which is all about finding your way in an expansive, curious world. “Coal Tattoo” talks about the sorrow from hard, thankless labor. Collins also elegantly revisits the notable “Mr. Tambourine Man” and “Send In the Clowns.” While she plans to release the new live album this week, Collins also has many other pots on the proverbial fire. She has plans for a new record in 2022 that will feature new material from her time songwriting during the pandemic. She also started a podcast on which she hosts celebrity guests in-conversation. She talks about her now-longtime sobriety, songwriting, her guests’ careers, and whatever else might be in the air. Collins says she learned a lot from her dad when it comes to chatting.

“My father did a lot of interviews with a lot of artists,” she says. “So, this is natural for me. Plus, all of the interviews I’ve done in my life—if you don’t know how to do it after all this then I don’t know! These conversations are like having dinner and talking, which is one of the things I like best about my life here in New York.”

Collins, who found herself being both productive and relaxing with activities like long walks during 2020, remains grateful that hers is a life filled with creativity and, especially, music. Stories and telling them are important; they’re the currency of humanity, in many ways. They’re settling and invigorating and the stuff that makes one’s mind full, readied.

“I love what I do,” Collins says. “I keep working at what I do, always expecting there will be surprises to come and interest in what I’m writing and what I’m doing. I keep my practice up, of course, at all times. That means something will always be in the wings.”

www.judycollins.com

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