Collins began playing piano professionally at the age of 15 while still attending Reno High School in Nevada. Later, while studying music and teaching at San Francisco State College, she played in groups and solo at various jazz clubs, eventually going on tour with the Frankie Carle band. In the late 1950s, Collins settled in Los Angeles, working there and also in Reno and Las Vegas, where she became the first woman to conduct one of the resort's show bands. During this time Collins worked in film and television studios, spending 10 years in the band on the Mary Tyler Moore Show and also on comedian Bob Newhart's shows. In 1975, she recorded with Bill Henderson. Their Street Of Dreams and Tribute To Johnny Mercer albums were Grammy nominees. Collins continued to work in films, coaching actors Jeff Bridges and Beau Bridges for their roles in The Fabulous Baker Boys (1989). Beginning in 1975, Collins taught jazz piano at the Dick Grove Music School. Collins wrote and arranged extensively, including a program, performed live and on radio, tracing the involvement of women in jazz as composers and lyricists. She appeared twice on Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz radio show, most recently in 2002.
Although she performed mostly in solo, duo and trio work, Collins occasionally sat in with big bands, such as that led by Bill Berry. She also recorded with Paul Horn and under her own name. Her first album appeared in 1961, her next, Moment To Moment, after a long gap. Centered mainly in Los Angeles, Collins worked farther afield in places such as Mexico City, Paris, New York and Brazil. A gifted, fluent pianist with a strong sense of time and knowledge of the historical role of the piano in jazz, Collins made a considerable impression as a performer. Her composing and arranging talents are also worthy of mention. She sang pleasantly and with a delicate understanding of the lyricist's intentions.
She died on January 3, 2010.
- Girl Here Plays Mean Piano (Jazzland, 1961)
- Moment to Moment (Discovery, 1981)
- Sweet Madness (Audiophile, 1990)
- Embraces the Heart of Brazil (Audiophile, 2005)
With Bill Henderson
- Live at the Times (Joyce Collins & Dave Mackay, Discovery, 1975)
- Joey Revisited (Steve LaSpina's, Dave Mackay, Joyce Collins, Jerry Coleman, Monad, 1976)
- Street of Dreams (Joyce Collins & Dave Mackay, Discovery, 1979)
- Something's Gotta Give (Dave Mackay, Jim Hughart, Jimmie Smith, Joey Baron, Joyce Collins, Pete Christlieb, Discovery, 1979)
- A Tribute to Johnny Mercer (Joyce Collins & Dave Mackay, Discovery, 1981)
With Paul Horn
- Paul Horn and the Concert Ensemble (Libbie Jo Snyder(f/pi), Bruce Emarine(f), Tim Weisberg (f), Joyce Collins(p/h), Chuck Collazzi(g), David Parlato(b), Bart Hall(d), Ovation, 1969)