Dave Holland: A Weekend of Bass
AAJ: You also played with Thelonious Monk toward the end of his career.
Holland: Yes, briefly.
AAJ: What was that like?
Holland: It was another unique experience. He was absolutely one-of-a-kind. To play in a rhythm section with Thelonious Monk on piano was a fantastic experience. Any time you play with a great musician it kind of gives you a reference point for your own music, which you hadn't had before. It puts you into a juxtaposition with that player and helps you to see your own playing in a certain light, I think. And that was a great experience for me to play with him and to play that book of music that he had written.
AAJ: I saw you in the late '70s with Sam Rivers. It seemed like you were doing mostly free improvisation.
DH: We were. If it was a trio or duo then in fact there was no written material at all. It was all open-form improvising. But we did it for eight or nine years. It got to a point where I think a lot of people couldn't tell whether there was written material or not. Because the language and communication that we built up over that time was very clear, I think. At times it sounded like it was written. Things would happen, events would happen that sounded like they were planned or written out.
AAJ: Would you consider yourself one of the prime movers in the free jazz or free improvisation movement?
DH: I wouldn't say so, because that started in '59 with Ornette or even earlier with Ornette [Coleman] or Cecil Taylor and Coltrane's work in the '60s and so on. I would say they were the prime movers. I was influenced by that music while I was still in London prior to '68 when I came to New York. I was living in London between '64 and '68 and during that time we were listening to the recordings, myself and my musician friends. We were trying to take that inspiration and do something with it. Yes, certainly that was a big influence on my playing. And after leaving Miles we put together a band, Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton, Barry Altschul and myself called Circle. And that continued on with working on those kind of musical settings, open-form settings, trying different things, how the compositional form relates to improvisation.
AAJ: What did you enjoy about free improvisation?
DH: I enjoyed the choices that were available. Especially the fact that any evening you could approach the performance with whatever you had on your mind at that time. Whatever kind of mood, whatever kind of musical thought processes were going on with you on that day, you could put them into the music that evening. So it was a wonderful exploration of your musical ideas. Playing compositions, playing on forms can be equally interesting and you can give time to it. They each present you with different challenges. And in the end you're still faced with the idea to be creative and to do something creative with the musical setting.
I found after a while by about the mid-'80s I began to realize that there were certain musical contexts that were not accessible in an open-form setting. There were musical contexts that you needed to have a compositional setting in order to realize them. I can give you an example of somebody else's. If you take "Giant Steps" as a song, you could improvise in an open-form setting for 100 years and never as a group come across that and do it. It took Coltrane, it took a composer to sit down and write that setting and create that musical form and chord sequence, which of course has resulted in people learning a lot about particular chord movements and negotiating certain kinds of modulations and so on. And that can only happen through a composition. So there are certain times when compositions serve a very important purpose.
AAJ: You'll also be appearing in June at Yoshi's with the Gateway Trio. What kind of music will you be playing with them?
DH: That trio was formed around 1974, '75. It's John Abercrombie on guitar and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Jack and I actually our musical relationship and friendship go back to about 1967. So this is a very long-term friendship that we've had. John Abercrombie I met shortly after that. So these are two friends, these are two musical companions. And each of us developed our own music and our own groups. But we've found that still this group, this collection of people, this trio is still relevant to us, and we have a lot of fun playing it. Although we don't play every year, there's actually been some quite long periods when the band hasn't gotten together, somehow eventually it comes around and we gravitate toward each other and decide to do some gigs together and write some new music and do a new recording and so on.
So we got together last summer at the Montreal Festival. I was one of the invited guests at the Festival. I was asked to put on a concert series there of five concerts. And one of the concerts I proposed and did was with the Gateway Trio. I guess as a result of us getting together last summer we started talking about doing a tour again. So we are doing this week at Yoshi's and then we're gonna be going to Europe for the first two weeks of July to tour some of the summer festivals there. The music we'll be playing will be certainly drawn from, we've done four CDs with the band over the years. There's also quite a bit of other material that we've played that hasn't been on record and we'll probably be drawing from that collection of music. And there will probably be some brand-new things too. So, we have quite a large collection of music that we play and we'll be choosing things from that.