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Dave Holland: A Giant, and Still Growing

By Published: March 13, 2004
"It was unexpected. I wasn't in a musical situation which was particularly geared to show me in the contemporary style I was developing as a player. I was playing fairly standard music with a singer, a very good singer, and a very good trio. But I was really trying to play that music - and I'm convinced it's one of the reasons I was offered the job with Miles - is that he heard me trying to play musically for this situation, rather than to just go for myself. I've always tried to play what was the best for the music. And I think he probably heard that and liked what he heard."

Playing to the strength of bandmates wasn't uniquely Davis, says Holland, but "Miles certainly was a master of being able to give enough guidance and not too much. Give direction, but still allow the musicians the freedom to explore their own creative ideas. I think that way you get the most personal and most meaningful contribution coming from everybody. And I extend that also to the composing skills of the musicians too. When there are musicians in the band who are also fine composers, it's great to have the opportunity to play their music and their concept of what a compositional setting could be for the band. It gives us some other opportunities and other options, musically."

As a bassist, Holland said he was first influenced by the great Ray Brown and Leroy Vinegar, but "there are a lot of other bass players and non-bass players that have been important to me and influential."

Still, it took time to find them. In northern England where he grew up, he only heard what was on the radio, which was pop and the beginnings of rock and roll. "I used to listen to the radio a lot and pick out things I heard on that. I played the ukulele when I was 4 years old. I just learned a few chords on it. Then I used to sit at the piano and pick out ideas there," he said. "A lot of it was the self-discovery of music, as much as anything. I had a few people show me a little bit. My uncle showed me some chords on the ukulele, and I had a few piano lessons briefly. But my main development started when I met some other guitar players at a youth club I was going to when I was about 13."

He joined a band playing hits of the day, as a guitarist, and then "we decided the band didn't sound right without a bassist, so I volunteered to get a bass guitar. I started listening to bass guitar and bass players at that point."

Soon after, he was turned on to Brown and Vinegar and practiced with their records, hearing the sounds of jazz.

"I turned professional when I was 15. I started left school and started playing professionally on bass guitar then switched to acoustic bass when I was 17. I got offered a job with a dance band playing a summer season in the north of England. I practiced a lot. I'm not saying there wasn't a lot of time spent on the music. I'm just saying that the process wasn't formal. I had a lot of teachers, but they were mostly musicians that I knew, it wasn't formal teachers at a school. After I started playing acoustic bass I moved to London and started studying with a classical bass teacher privately, once a week. Then I applied to the school for a three-year course, full-time. I was there from 65 to 68 at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama."

He also learned at Ronnie Scott's. where he would encounter touring jazz musicians like Ben Webster and Coleman Hawkins, as well as playing with London's most innovative artists, including John McLaughlin, John Surman, Kenny Wheeler, Chris McGregor, Evan Parker. After the call from Miles, he participated in some of the seminal recordings of the era, like Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew and Live at the Fillmore.

Holland's career blossomed and he found work with a catalog of jazz greats, but it has really come into focus with this band of special musicians. While all the musicians are outstanding, young Kilson on drums has a special talent. He's an astounding drummer, polyrhythmic, fluid, funky, fast and exotic. He pushes the music special places, provides beats for the soloists and the musical concept, at once and separately. It seems like more than one drummer to hear him, but to watch his smooth, dance-like movements behind the trap set, it seems so easy. It appears as though Holland has found his Philly Joe or Tony Williams.

"He's definitely, of his generation, on of the great drummers and percussionists that we have at the moment," says Holland. "I certainly think he takes his place in the tradition of great drummers that have brought a unique approach to the music. He's an exceptional musician."

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