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Interviews

Dave Holland: Past-Present-Future Luster

By Published: September 18, 2006
AAJ: I once had a long talk with T.S. Monk about it and he was saying how in this day and age the record companies will grab a young player, who may have a lot a talent, but they almost push him out too fast, and then his record sales fall. Then he carries this label around as a sales flop, and it gives him a stigma for a while. Whereas in the old days, with Monk and Miles and others, record people may not have been the greatest when it came to paying them what they deserved, but they knew it was important to go out and record them every so often and chronicle their growth.

DH: I have to say there’s some responsibility on the part of the musicians there. We can blame the record companies for that, but there are also some choices that the musicians make. If you’re a young musician of 21 and still in the formative period, and you decide to go for the opportunity of quick success—which doesn’t often come, of course—with an offer that sort of dazzles you. Then you get diverted from the path of apprenticeship, which is important in the music; working with musicians, developing your craft, developing your understanding of how it functions, how the music is put together, what the process is. All those things are things that often take time.

I know, just from observing musicians, that there are some that make the choice. They want to take their time. They’re not in a hurry to become a bandleader. They’re prepared to wait until they’re maybe 30 or so, 35, before they step out and do their own thing. I think in the end, that patience is required. That’s something that is really quite important.

There are the exceptions of people who are ready to be bandleaders. But Trane didn’t really didn’t start having his own working band until he was in his 30s. There are many examples like that. He was working with Monk and Miles and he took those gigs because he understood that he could really work on his music in the context of a very creative situation, with musicians who were going to help him develop and mature as a musician himself.

AAJ: Is there anything on Critical Mass from your perspective that you might say, “That’s really different. We haven’t quite done that before.”

DH: I think there a lot of things in there. I don’t want to sound like I’m overly satisfied with it. The music is always in the process of becoming, so we’re now still thinking about how to build on those songs and develop them further, and then new pieces are being introduced.

I don’t want to get too technical, but there’s some structural things that are happening in the compositions, in the forms, that I think are in some ways extensions or developments further from things we already started in motion on other pieces and other records. There are also some things that are quite new. The Steve Nelson composition, “Amator Silenti,” is a unique episodic piece which goes to a number of different stages and moods and things. It’s kind of a new setting for the band. The Robin Eubanks piece (“Full Circle”) I think has a lot of new things in it. A couple of my tunes are developing some of the rhythmic forms that I’ve been working on in new areas. There’s certainly some movement there.

I’m not saying it’s a huge departure. It’s not like we suddenly developed a new language or anything. But I think there’s definitely some developmental process still evident in a lot of the pieces.

Dave HollandAAJ: Why the switch away from ECM?

DH: Ownership and personal control of the product of our work. The standard situation with a record company is that you make the record. The cost of making the record is taken out of your royalties. But the recording itself belongs to the record company when you, in fact, have paid for the production. I was happy with the ECM relationship for many years. But for a long time I’ve had in my mind that I wanted to get more ownership of the master tapes of the music.

I made a proposal to ECM a few years ago for me to do that—for me to produce the records and develop them, but then for them to lease them from me. We did, in fact, lease two records to another record company at that point. It was the second solo album I did on the bass, which was One’s All (Intuition, 1993). We leased that to Intuition Records, which was just recently was returned to me and it’s going to be on Dare2 Records in the future.

There was another record called The World Trio (Intuition, 1995), which was with [guitarist] Kevin Eubanks and [percussionist] Mino Cinelu. That was also on Intuition Records, which is now called Schott Music. At that point I was already wanting to move in that direction, but ECM wasn’t really prepared to do that, so I had to accept it. I was happy with the other aspects of the relationship with ECM and continued recording for them for some time, up until the release of Overtime.

It was at that point that I really saw that the time was right for me to make that move. There were some opportunities that had been created by the increased success that the music was having and the increased support we were getting from the public. I had gotten the next album lined up, the second big band album, Overtime, which is a follow up to what had been a very successful CD winning a Grammy (What Goes Around, Best Large Jazz Ensemble, 2003) and doing well in the sales area. It seemed to be a very opportune moment for me to take this second big band CD. Where there was a lot of expectation and interest in it, and use that as a starting point for the record company.

We immediately got a wonderful offer from Universal Jazz France, whose president is Daniel Richard. He immediately took a meeting with us and expressed his interest in setting up a distribution and licensing arrangement and promotion for the records. At the same time we could maintain the identity of our own record label and ownership and so on. So that was the starting point. What is going to follow on from that for me now, which ties in with the current state of affairs in the record business, is the whole idea of Internet distribution, downloading music.

We’ve been recording concerts live for the last two or three years. We carry our own 24-track recording system to a lot of our gigs. We’ve got an archive of things building up. The beauty of it is there’s more choice now for the consumer and the musician. We’re not tied into putting out a whole album. I can release a track from a concert we did six months ago and I can release some tracks from a duet concert I did with Steve Nelson or Jim Hall. These things can be freed up from the whole constriction of CDs and putting it a store. You can make it available to the public and then they have the choice of getting one track of something.

This is the other side of it. I wanted to set up a framework, a record company that would be a vehicle through which that could happen.


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