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Dave Holland: A Weekend of Bass

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AAJ: How do you see the role of the bass, and how would you describe your particular style on the bass?

DH: Well, the role of the bass very much depends on the music it's playing. I find myself in the course of an evening of music providing a lot of different roles. Sometimes supporting, sometimes leading, sometimes melodic, sometimes more rhythmic. Traditionally, of course, the bass has a particular role in the rhythm section, a supportive role. It kind of unites the harmony and the rhythm, working closely with the drums and the piano. That's a role I'm happy to provide at times in the music. That can be done without limiting the amount of dialogue and conversation the bass can enter into. So, I find myself balancing those two roles: the supportive role and the more provocative role of dialogue and conversation.

AAJ: What was it like to play with Miles and to record In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew?

DH: First of all, how it was the play with Miles. Of course it was a great opportunity, a great honor. And for a young musician of 21, which is what I was when I joined his band, it was a chance to observe and to experience his wonderful focus and creativity. It's been a reference point for me ever since, the things I experienced in his group. He was a very generous bandleader in terms of giving plenty of musical room to the people in the group. He led the group with a very gentle touch. He wasn't a dictator in any way of what should happen. He pretty much created or set up a direction for the music and then let you go and find your own creative interpretation within that setting. So that was a wonderful opportunity.

As for the recordings, they were done over a period of time. We were going into the studio fairly frequently. We weren't recording particular albums at particular times, at least that was my impression. We'd go into the studio and maybe record one or two tracks and then another week later or whenever and do some more. And at a certain point some of those things were put together and put on record. They were part of an ongoing sequence of recordings that we were doing, and that were coming out on different records.

Those recordings were very, very different—as you may have noticed at this point now that there are live recordings available of the working band—the things that were being released at the time were different settings from what we were doing in the live performances. That was a significant thing for me. He wasn't going in the studio to record the band as it sounded on gigs. He was going in with particular groups of people, sometimes a quartet, sometimes 9 or 10 people, and whatever grouping that suited the piece that he was going to record.

AAJ: How much of Bitches Brew was written down and how much was free improvisation?

DH: Just enough was written down to give it shape and substance. That was one of the great skills that Miles had. That's also evident on earlier records like Kind of Blue. The material is very minimal in a sense, but because it's such strong material it gave a great deal of focus and potential to the improvisers, to the musicians. So, although the written material wasn't very elaborate or extensive, it was enough to give just enough character to it. Really, what he was doing was creating a setting for improvising in. And creating a context to creative an improvisation. And a lot of times it was very much a communal group improvisation that was going on, a collective, you might say. So there was certainly written material, sometimes more, sometimes less.

And there was material also written by other people that Miles reworked and edited and changed in a way that would provide the kind of settings that he was looking for. So Joe Zawinul would bring in a composition and Miles would find a way to use it, which is often quite different from the way Joe had intended the piece. But in a way it would give it maybe perhaps more of Miles' characteristic ideas at the time.

AAJ: How aware were you at the time that you were in the vanguard of a new style of jazz?

DH: Well, I'll say that obviously any time you play with a great musician, and of course Miles was a great musician, you're aware that you're involved in something important. As to historic significance and things like this, if you start thinking and dwelling on those things it's an inhibitive force that doesn't help you. So you're basically trying to deal with things that are immediate, which is to play the music and to play it as well as you can. If you start thinking too much or at all even about if it may or may not have historic significance then of course it can inhibit you. On the other hand, I was somebody who grew up listening and examining minutely Miles' recordings. I of course was aware that there were probably going to be other musicians doing the same thing with recordings that I was doing with Miles. So I tried not to think about that too much and just to get on with it. Otherwise you become kind of self-conscious, I think.

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