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Dave Holland: Passing the Torch

Dylan McGuire By

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Standing onstage in the auditorium of the Philadelphia School for Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), a lanky, grey-haired gentleman stands by the piano, directing a small group of student musicians playing Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island."

He stops the song during the trumpet solo and says to the student in a British accent, "Did you listen to the recording?"

The student looks at his feet and replies, "No."

"You always have to listen to the recording first when you're playing a song," the gentleman says, in a decidedly non-condescending manner. "It gives you so much direction." He then starts the song again from the top.

Although this could be any high school jazz ensemble, led by any band director, the man counting off the songs and providing bits of musical wisdom today just happened to be double-bass jazz legend Dave Holland, in town for a three-day residency that will culminate in student performances on Friday, and his own concerts on Saturday night.

Holland took part in the residency between December 8-10, 2010 in collaboration with CAPA and the Painted Bride Art Center, who hosted his concerts on December 11. He led rehearsals, both for the school's 21-member big band and its seven-piece small ensemble. Both groups played a concert at the school on December 10.

Holland said, in an interview prior to the residency, that he looked forward to interacting with the students on a personal level, trying to understand what they wanted to accomplish and guiding them.

"I learn a lot when working with young people. I get to find out what they are listening to and find what they are studying. It's the other side of the process for me," said Holland, who has played with legends including Chick Corea, Miles Davis and Pat Metheny. "The arts play an extremely important role in the development of a young person."

Band Director Brian Ewing said that his students were "thrilled, inspired, motivated, entranced, and enthralled" to have the opportunity to work with Holland. He said that he was amazed at how quickly his students learned from Holland from a stylistic standpoint.

The students in the small ensemble who had a chance to rehearse with Holland were clearly thrilled with the opportunity to work with a professional of his caliber. "It's been an amazing, incredible experience," said Brandon Schramm, who plays double-bass in the ensemble.

Schramm also said that Holland spent some time working with his right hand attack, and that the advice was invaluable. He went on to describe how Holland talked to the students about the communal aspect of music, and how it can bring together people of completely different backgrounds.

Drummer Kevin Gil was also excited about the opportunity. "I really felt comfortable and at peace with him," Gil said. "He gave it to us plain, straight-up. It wasn't too complicated and I really learned a lot."

Gil also explained how Holland talked to the group about the importance of melody and harmony, and how the individual musicians can complement each other instead of just showing what they can do. He was also impressed by some wisdom that Holland had learned from the great Miles Davis. "He told us, if you learn something new every day, by the end of the year, you've learned 365 new things."

And from the looks of it, Holland shows no signs of stopping his own learning process.

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