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Red Holloway Quartet: San Diego, February 8, 2011

Robert Bush By

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Red Holloway Quartet with Plas Johnson
Saville Theater, San Diego City College
San Diego, CA
February 8, 2011

Red Holloway has "been there and done that" when it comes to jazz standards and all forms of the blues. While normally his specialties are both playing the tenor saxophone and belting out blues vocals, a recent fall had left him with an injured left hand. But no worries—he just placed a call to his long time friend, Plas Johnson, who covered the tenor chair and left him to concentrate on singing.

If there is one word to sum up the extraordinary group of musicians assembled for this date, it would be: experience. Holloway himself has a ridiculously long c.v., which includes work with hard-bopper Sonny Stitt, organist Jack McDuff, and bluesman John Mayall. Plas Johnson is most famously known as the tenor lead on Henry Mancini's inimitable "Pink Panther" theme, and has played on thousands of blues and jazz dates, backing everyone from Charles Brown and B.B. King, to Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra. On piano was the elegant and adventurous veteran Art Hillary, and rounding out the instrumental quartet were bassist Richard Reid, whose huge sound and sure ear guided the proceedings, and drummer Garryck King, who swung, shuffled and soloed with exuberance throughout the evening.

The concert was sponsored by the jewel of San Diego radio, KSDS Jazz 88, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. They've been presenting this monthly series, year in and out, for decades. The small, but acoustically superb Saville Theater was sold out a week in advance, and the audience was pumped for their man—probably on the strength of a concert he had given ten years earlier at the same venue.

The band wasted no time launching into a slow, sumptuous reading of the Duke Ellington classic, "I'm Just A Lucky So and So," done sans vocal. Johnson's burnished tenor, drenched in vibrato a la Ben Webster, was caressed and supported by the sublime piano work of Hillary. Hillary, who was fantastic the entire night, utilized his wide ranging and eloquent harmonic gift, his left hand deftly guiding the chord sequence with appoggiatura brush strokes, always seeming to avoid the obvious harmonies and opting instead for ones more lush and profound.

Then Holloway joined the group for a grooving stroll through "Locksmith Blues." Like most of the blues tunes that followed, it featured double entendres and sexual innuendoes that the crowd cheered at every opportunity. The vocalist upped the humor quotient with his randy delivery of "Yes, Yes, Yes" (sample lyric: "You could tell, she had a lot of class/ As I gazed at her yes, yes, yes.") and induced loudly enthusiastic sing-alongs on multiple occasions. One could tell from his playful banter in between songs that this degree of audience participation seemed to energize him. He was having a blast.

Bassist Reid soloed on almost every tune, and his contributions were swinging, succinct and synchronized with his gravelly humming. Johnson was the main soloist, his warm, pliant tenor running the changes with a relaxed and elegant élan, a sound that harkens back to players like Dexter Gordon, very full bodied with a touch of "breathiness" for good measure. On a slightly out-of-the-box reading of the James Brown classic, "I Feel Good," drummer King carried the tune by hitting all the right hi-hat accents to accentuate the funk.

There were serious moments as well, like Johnson's tender reading of "Talk Of The Town," which made one think about the original intent of the lyrics. Perhaps the most poignant story of the concert came when pianist Hillary got his feature and chose the seldom played standard "Delilah," laying it out with a deliciously paced slow burn. His solo built from spare legato single notes and sparse voice leading into an ever-insistent crescendo that stopped well short of showing off, demonstrating a Hank Jones-like restraint and sophistication that left the listeners wanting more.

Holloway promised that the drummer would be featured on the finale with a wild, swinging romp on the Ellington / Tizol vehicle "Caravan." He wasn't kidding. King started off with a long drum solo, then took another one at the half-way mark. It could have come off as showboating, but instead just seemed ebullient, and the man didn't repeat himself once in either solo as he laid out a master class in swing.

Before the last notes of "Caravan" had disappeared into the night, the audience rose to their feet, cheered wildly, and remained for several moments until the lights came up. Holloway seemed humbled by all of the attention, and stood at the edge of the stage, gesturing with gratitude and drinking it all in.

Photo Credit

Anthony Cecena

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