UW Today

March 31, 2014

School of Music’s Tom Collier celebrates ’60 Years Behind Bars’ with concert

School of Music

Tom and Cheryl Collier. Tom Collier celebrates 60 years performing with April 2, 2014 concert

Tom and Cheryl Collier. Tom Collier will celebrate 60 years of performing with a concert on April 2 in the Meany Studio Theater.Joanne De Pue

At the end of his well-known concert series last May, longtime School of Music Professor Tom Collier returned to the stage alone — but not for a final bow.

Rather, he asked the audience to bear with him for one more song. “Forty-four years ago today, I married the love of my life, my wife Cheryl,” he said, gesturing to a woman in the center of the second row of Meany Studio Theater.

Having absent-mindedly booked a concert for the night of his anniversary, Collier wanted to observe the milestone — and make it up to his life partner — by performing a well-known ’60s era hit by Carole King, arranged for vibraphone.

Tom Collier’s ‘Sixty Years Behind Bars’
7:30 p.m., April 2
Meany Studio Theater

If you missed that sentimental show, you can catch another this week in the annual Mallethead percussion series. Collier will mark six decades of performance, to the day, with “Sixty Years Behind Bars,” a concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 2, again in the Meany Studio Theater. The evening also will feature guitarist Larry Coryell, percussionist Emil Richards, clarinetist (and emeritus faculty member) Bill Smith, bassist Dan Dean, and pianist Marc Seales. Tickets are available online.

His anniversary tribute was perfectly in tune with the occasion, given the constant presence of music in the lives of both Tom and Cheryl Collier, from well before their meeting as UW music students more than four decades ago.

He remembers his first public performance, at age 5, on April 2, 1954, playing marimba and tap dancing at the VFWs “Kiddie Karnival” at Puyallup High School. And he remembers that long ago day in the stairwell of the Music Building after orchestra rehearsal when he asked Cheryl out on a date and she said yes.

Tom Collier, age 5, April 2, 1954.

Tom Collier, age 5, April 2, 1954.

Two children and two grandchildren later, they are still spotted around the campus, hand in hand. Cheryl, a flutist who still performs often, enjoyed a long career as a music teacher in the Federal Way school system. Collier has spent more than 30 years teaching percussion and jazz studies students at the UW in addition to his active performance and recording career in the Seattle area and beyond.

Though it may seem that he has spent most of his life at the UW — he notes with amusement that “Bow Down to Washington” was among the three pieces he played at that debut performance — Collier in fact worked with many leading recording musicians in Los Angeles after graduating from the UW in 1971. These include Barbra Streisand, Harry Nilsson, Della Reese, Peggy Lee and even Frank Zappa, among many others.

He also had a notable performance career long before all of that, appearing on the nationally televised Lawrence Welk Show several times as a young tap-dancing marimba player.

Collier’s earliest musical ventures were encouraged by his musician parents, Ward and Ethel, a trumpeter and pianist who performed in various lounge bands around Seattle and Tacoma. He says Ethel was a bit of a stage mom, while his father carefully documented his son’s earliest musical milestones.

“My dad had a direct-to-disc home recorder and he made a lot of 78 rpm records of the family during that time, before he bought a tape recorder,” Collier says.

He recently unearthed a vinyl recording his father made in January of 1954 featuring the three songs he performed in his stage debut, as well as the audition recording he made for the Welk show. With such an early start on establishing his identity as a musician, it’s no surprise that Collier’s elementary school classmates called him “Tommy Marimba.”

Some of those former classmates can be spotted in the audience when Collier performs on campus and around the Puget Sound, often with bassist Dean, his longtime friend and musical partner, who will be on hand for the April 2 concert as well.

Will “Bow Down to Washington” be on the program this time?

Collier smiles and delivers an emphatic “No.” But knowing this musician and his propensity for observing musical milestones, it’s a sure bet that notes from Collier’s life in music — so far, that is — will figure prominently.

  • This is an edited version of an article that appeared on the School of Music website.
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