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Dave Holland: Consistently Exceptional

By Published: July 6, 2009
"I always felt that technique had to serve your musical ideas. Technique as a goal in itself doesn't mean much. I've always tried to develop my technique out of a necessity to play something, rather than to just demonstrate speed on the instrument. That's a quite important thing. Technique should serve your musical concept. I always thought of technique as a means for you to realize the ideas that you have. Technique is connected to what you're trying to do.

"Different techniques are required for different things. You can't take the technique that a classical trumpet player has and apply it to playing like Louis Armstrong and vice versa. The techniques that different players have are the techniques that are suited to their playing. Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell are anther good example. Two great pianists. Completely different types of techniques. You can't say one is better than the other, but each one developed a technique completely suited to the style they were developing and to produce the sound out of the piano that they were looking for."

These days, the ever-busy Holland doesn't really have a practice regimen. "On the road, you don't always have a lot of time between all the travel stuff you have to do and the sound check and the gig ... I do warm-up and try find and hour here or there," he says,

"When I'm at home, I have a thing that I do. It's a mixture of technical things—scales and stuff—and just playing, improvising. Trying different things, different ideas. Developing a language."

Dave Holland The bass Holland plays also varies. He has one for recording and playing gigs near home north of New York City when it can be easily transported. That one, which he's had for some 14 years, doesn't even have a brand name, but he estimates it at about 150 years old and of French design. "I like the sound of it a lot. It's a fun instrument to play."

Since the tragic events of 9/11 in the U.S., the ensuing tightening of security at airports, and restrictions on what can passengers can bring, causes problems for everyone—especially if one is carrying around the beast that is the upright acoustic bass. Nearly three years ago, Holland found and procured a smaller bass, one that makes traveling much easier.

Says Holland, "I've been traveling with a bass that was originally conceived by Ira Coleman (the bassist), and designed by David Gage, who lives here in New York. It's a small—not in string length, but small in body length—acoustic bass that has been designed in order to enable us to fly and travel with the airlines that now have weight restrictions ... My instrument, in the hard case, weighs 100 pounds, the full-size instrument. And this new instrument that's been designed with a lighter case and a smaller body size weighs about 52 pounds. It's called a Czech-Ease [acoustic travel bass]. It's made by an instrument-making company in Czechoslovakia. It was designed by David [Gage]. He invested a lot of money, as well, to develop this whole process in Czechoslovakia. They've become quite popular instruments. More and more people are using them.

"The only other solution is to borrow an instrument as you go. That's not very satisfactory, certainly for me. I would rather have an instrument that I know is going to be ready to play when I take it out of the case, and it's got the strings that I like, the setup that I like, and so on. Even though it's a relatively new instrument, it has a good sound. For concert situations, we're usually playing through a PA and amps and so on. The instrument sounds very fine. It feels fine to play. I enjoy playing it ... It's solved so many problems for me and reduced my stress levels when I'm trying to travel around the world. It's made it a lot easier to go through the whole check-in process."

Holland rarely plays the electric bass, though he found himself in that situation this year when he joined Hancock's tour playing hits from various stages of the great pianists career. At Newport, for example, the band played tunes including the funky "Cantaloupe Island" and "Chameleon."

"That was a rare occasion. The last time I played a Fender style bass was 1991, with Pat Metheny, Herbie and Jack (DeJohnette). We did a tour together. I have an acoustic bass guitar that I like a lot. I used it on a record with Herbie called The New Standard (Verve, 1996). A couple of tracks on that, not on the whole record. Subsequently, when we toured I used it. But other than that I haven't played bass guitar in a long time. It was a bit of a surprise to me. I only found out the day before the rehearsals that he was going to be playing music that would need a bass guitar. I didn't get much warm-up time. It was on-the-job training, I'm afraid," says Holland with a self-effacing chuckle. "We had to get Fender to ship one out to L.A. for the rehearsals. I ended up keeping it."

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