Alonzo Holliday: The Archaeology of Out-Bop
Frank Turek's dream: he is in a smoky bar where jazz floats in the background. Coming up to sit down next to him is a hip, old cat who begins to tell him stories of playing sax in bands in the early '40s. He introduces himself as Alonzo Holliday.
Back to waking life, in the '90s: Frank is making plans to start a band with another Frank, and since there can't be two Franks, Turek decides to adopt the name of his friend from the dream.
The other Frank adopts another name from jazz history, Chico. Together, bassist Kit Demos, tenor saxophonist Holliday and drummer Chico Valentine form the Mystic Out-Bop Review.
The MOR are anything but MOR (as in "middle-of-the-road"): they are decidedly in the fast lane of the avant-garde. That said, a careful listener can always hear nods to the jazz past in their work, going back to the everlasting, ever-hip, original Alonzo Holliday and before.
If you live in Portland, Maine, you may often find the new Holliday in his guise (literally) of Cranky, the Clown School Dropout, busking for small change on his signature straight alto sax and playing hits from the '20s and '30s.
Cranky's sneakers don't match: one is red and one is blue. He wears a plaid shirt. Somehow, everything hangs together and he comes off looking quite dapper. The straight alto is an exquisite, black-nickel plated model.
It is his art school background that gives him this aesthetic sense. With a bachelors in Fine Arts from the University of Southern Maine, he balances another career as an artist of dioramas in the style of Joseph Cornell.
As a boy in Dexter, Maine, Turek had little exposure to culture. He did take drawing lessons, but the nearest large museums were in Portland (The Portland Museum of Art) and Rockland (The Farnsworth Institute), and these were two hours away.
Even his exposure to music was late. But in his early teens, he discovered the world of music on his AM radio. This was in the late '70s, when someone tuning in could find a wealth of variety. Because he was out in the country with no signal obstructions, he could pick up stations from all over the northeast. "At night time," he says, "I could pick up stations in Boston, New York, Buffalo and occasionally pick up a Chicago station...I was always tweaking the dial."
There was much Top 40 pop, but also funk, like Parliament/Funkadelic. "It was kind of wild 'cause I hadn't heard music like that before, the urban music," he continues. The funk element is still strong in the Out-Bop Review, despite its often free-form time structures.
Turek has an older half-brother who moved back in with the family when Holliday was in his late teens. "He studied music at the Boston conservatory," he explains. "He was a singer. He did light opera and show tunes."
One thing his brother, an accomplished pianist, showed him was the piano. "He had a Zen, hands-off approach to teaching and had me do a lot of exploration," Turek says. "I started discovering the piano in an odd way.
"I tried learning how to read music at that time," he says, "but there was too much of a learning curve." So he continued his explorations. At the same time, he had found that he liked the music of French composer Erik Satie. "I had sheet music to 'Gymnopedie,' which is a very basic piece of his, and I remember trying to learn that; and I learned enough just by analyzing it on my own, just seeing how it was constructed. And I would spend hours playing on my own."
Turek had a number of bands before the Review. "I picked up the alto sax in the late '90s, when I was in my late 20s," he said. "I bought a used alto sax, just a cheap student horn, and just immediately started. It wasn't great, but it was a workhorse. It immediately made sense to me, where I'd struggled for years on the piano.
"I had some friends, two who played guitar and one drummer, and I started listening to surf instrumental like The Ventures and Dick Dale. And a lot of this stuff was real sax oriented, along with R&B. So we started a surf band, Shutdown 66. The name is a reference to the year '66, and 'shutdown' is a racecar term. There's a lot of crossover between hot rod culture and surf. We did that and it ended up being a real popular band. There had just been a surf revival."
Turek has a grasp of the history of surf rock, how it evolved from the demise of the music of the big band era. "There was much popular music in the early days of rock that was entirely instrumental," he says. "We tend to forget that because it got overshadowed by the vocal material.
"Our band didn't play any popular surf songs. We did obscure ones. No originals, but in a way, our choices were original on account of their obscurity, so that was creative.