Sherman Jazz Museum Owner Bill Collins once beat out the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C. for an instrument.
Along with a trumpet that was once owned by Miles Davis, the Sherman museum also owns one of Duke Ellington’s traveling pianos and the musical collections of jazz trumpeters Maynard Ferguson and Roy “Little Jazz” Eldridge.
The museum is located at 201 W. Lamar Street in Sherman.
“People may not associate Sherman with having something this good, but it is here,” Collins said. “If this was in New York or Dallas, people would be saying, ‘This is great! You have to see this!’ But, because this is in Sherman, people assume we are not very good.”
Collins said that for those who are jazz fans or fans of trumpets, there is not a better museum.
“If I had to start over, I could not make this museum again,” Collins said. “I would not be able to find this stuff. So I am really lucky to have it. Sherman is the only place to see some of these things. Smithsonian would love to have some of this stuff. They have a Dizzy Gillespie trumpet, but we have one too. They do not have a Miles Davis trumpet and we do. They have a Duke Ellington portable piano, but we have one too.”
The building that houses the gallery that Collins refers to as a “world-class museum,” was bought in 1985. It was a Masonic Temple that Collins’s father remodeled.
“The first piece I got was Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet,” Collins said. “I was so excited about that. I did not know how to bid at an auction. I did it on the internet. So you are sitting there with your computer screen and mouse waiting for the item you want bid on to come up.”
Collins decided to wait a few moments to bid of the trumpet hoping bid late and not allow the price to be driven up too high.
“I missed it,” he said. “Nobody bid on it.”
So the next day, Collins called the auction site and told them that he had tried to bid on the trumpet, but was too late and lost it.
“I asked them if they were still willing to sell it,” he said. “They said yes. The reserve on the trumpet was $17,000 so I paid $17,000 for it. It ended up being $19,000 in all with the buyer’s premium. After that, I said, ‘I am ready. I am ready to go into the museum business.’”
Collins began collecting jazz memorabilia around 10 years ago after he retired. Collins was a trumpet player. He played at many of the summer musicals in Dallas.
“I am finding less and less of this stuff at auctions because more and more people are interested in guitars and rock ‘n’ roll memorabilia,” he said. “The main thing is that these things need to be preserved. That is our contribution to society. We want to preserve that period of time. We have about 3,000 albums here in the museum. Downstairs I have about 2,000 in storage.”
A foundation that was set up by Collin’s parents, the Collins-Binkley Foundation, pays for the new pieces for the museum as well as maintenance for the building.
Maynard Ferguson’s collection is the most expensive part of the museum.
“We worked with the University of North Texas on that,” Collins said. “North Texas wanted the music library so they could play the music. I did not want that. So I worked with them. We split it. The family wanted $600,000 for the items.”
Dan Cathy, the chief executive officer of Chick-fil-A, became involved with the sale.
“He is also an amateur trumpet player,” Collins said. “He said that he would play for half of the collection and give the music to North Texas and I would pay for other half of it. It worked out well.”
Maynard’s collection also includes the museum’s most talked about piece, a set of molds for false teeth.
“I did not expect to get them,” Collins said. “I dealt with Maynard’s daughter when I was buying the collection. I wanted to buy everything that he had. I spent a year going through stuff and seeing what I had. I expected to get horns, mouthpieces and that kind of thing. I did not expect to get molds of his teeth.”
The reason Maynard had molds of his teeth is because if something happened to a trumpet or brass player’s teeth and then he or she put a mouth piece up to his or her mouth to play, it would feel different.
“He had molds of his teeth made just in case,” Collins said. “He would be able to get false teeth that were exactly like the ones he had. That way he could keep on playing as if nothing had changed. You probably won’t see teeth at any other jazz museum.”
The Chet Baker portion of the museum also holds an interesting piece that is not exactly music related.
“Chet Baker was from Oklahoma, and he had a drug problem all of his life,” Collins said. “He died when he was playing in Amsterdam in Europe. He fell from a window at 3 in the morning. He was probably on drugs. He was in and out of jail all the time.”
A friend of Collins went to Amsterdam and stayed in the same hotel Baker died in.
“He just wanted to be in that room,” Collins said. “He stayed in the same room. He brought me back a sliver of wood from the window sill from where Chet Baker fell.”
Collins paid $13,000 for a Chet Baker horn.
“I was lucky to get that as well because we do not know how many horns he actually had in his lifetime,” he said. “He never had any money so he did not own a lot of the horns that he used. He would borrow them. He bought this one in 1956 from a dealer and I have a letter to prove it.”
One item that Collins bid on and did not get was a baby grand piano that was owned by Duke Ellington.
“A jazz museum in Harlem was closing down, and they were selling things,” he said. “I bid on the piano but my bid was not high enough so I did not get it. They really wanted $100,000 for it. I did not have that kind of money for it.”
The auctioneer would not lift the reserve so Collins did not get the piano.
“No one at the auction got it,” he said. “However, we got “The Ellington Pieta Mural” by Nikos Bel-Jon. It was about $5,000. The reserve was $15,000 for this, but they lifted it and gave it to me.”
The Ellington Pieta Mural is a modernist Mosaic by Nikos Bel-Jon, one of Duke Ellington’s favorite artists. Ellington bought the work for his sister. It was found in her apartment after her death and placed in the Harlem gallery.
“Of all the stuff in here,” Collins said. “We have about $600,000 worth of items. In the future, I would love to have Buddy Rich’s drums. Gene Krupa’s drums — anybody’s anything relating to jazz history I would be happy to have. Louis Armstrong’s trumpet I am currently looking for.”
Aside from continuing to add to the museum, Collins said he wants to help Sherman have more of a connection to jazz.
“I would really love to do an annual jazz festival here in Sherman,” he said. “It would be one weekend a year.”
Collins got the idea after he was contacted by a jazz festival in Montreal, Canada.
“They decided to build a jazz museum, but did not have anything to put in it,” he said. “They contacted me to give them one of Maynard’s horns because he was from Montreal. I declined because we have the entire collection. We wanted to keep the pieces all together and that is what the family wanted as well. So in Sherman, we have a museum without a festival and Montreal has the festival without the museum.
Collins said he would like his jazz festival to have musicians at the Sherman Jazz Museum in the daytime talking and doing clinics. Then in the afternoon, there would be a concert at Kidd Key Auditorium.
“That would bring a lot of people to this area if it was the right jazz artist,” Collins said. “Hopefully next year that will happen.”