Take Five With Molly Holm

Molly Holm By

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Meet Molly Holm:

Molly Holm is an unconventional singer and composer who blends jazz, improvisation, and North Indian Raga, reflecting her studies with master vocalist Pandit Pran Nath. For eight years plus, Molly was a founding member of Bobby McFerrin's original Voicestra, a group that toured internationally with numerous television appearances and recordings. She has also performed with minimalist composer Terry Riley (Khayal); tabla virtuoso }}Zakir Hussain}} (Rapt, No Strings); choreographer June Watanabe (E.O. 9066); and the avant-garde George Coates Performance Works (Actual Sho).

Molly has been strongly influenced by African-American Roots Music vocalist, Linda Tillery, through collaborations on multiple ensemble projects (Voicestra, SoVoSa, Vocal Front, Jukebox). More recently, her compositions for Marcus Gardley's multi-racial plays, Love is A Dream House in Lorin and This World In a Woman's Hands, garnered outstanding reviews. Other credits include writing the lyrics to saxophonist George Brooks' composition, The Light Never Leaves Your Eyes, which Molly recorded on his CD, Night Spinner.


voice, piano.

Teachers and/or influences?

Terry Riley (minimalist composer/pianist); Pandit Pran Nath (master vocalist of North Indian raga, Kirana-style); Linda Tillery (the most compelling singer on the planet and a singing historian of African Diaspora Roots Music), Wayne Wallace, Faith Winthrop, Jane Sharp (my voice technique guru), Bill Bell, Elvo D'Amante, Lou Harrison, W.A. Mathieu, and George Brooks. And by working example Patti Cathcart, Bobby McFerrin, Faye Carol, Art Ensemble Of Chicago and Don Cherry.

I knew I wanted to be a musician when...

Always and Now (smile). Even in all the years when I had intermittent periods of doubt—and even when I considered pursuing alternate and perhaps more sustaining career avenues—the music kept drawing me back. It takes confidence, for sure, to be a musician, and that is not always easy to come by. It also takes resiliency to manage the ups and downs of the uncertainties a self-employed musician's fluctuating income. And, I have learned the hard way that I actually have to be my own boss. It turns out that I am too stubborn, too opinionated, and too particular about most things. I need to be the person guiding my own music—as best I can, that is!

Your sound and approach to music:

I always consider myself to be a student of music and I consistently strive to expand my musical and vocal horizons by on-going studies. As I have gotten older, I am able to trust my own ears more and more, and I just keep going for the sounds that I like and that interest me—without worrying if anyone else will like those same sounds. It's like being led by a magic charm. And, I do my very best to stay open. As the drummer Deszon Claiborne stated to me, on a gig when I was filled with self-doubt, "Just step back, relax and really listen." Those words have been a great source of comfort to me.

And...in regards to my sound... I just hope my sound is me. I don't want to copy anyone—learn from the sounds of other singers, yes; copy them, no. It's taken me a long time to really hear me in my sound, and then to actually like the sound of my own voice. And, I have had to learn to accept the strengths and limitations of my sound.

Your teaching approach:

Pay attention to the student and the ways that are the most effective for their learning. I do my best to work intuitively and take each student at their level of understanding and experience. And, I think it's important to teach a strong foundation—emphasize the discipline required, whether it's in terms of voice technique or musicianship. And then also, I try and make sure that students have fun; otherwise, what's the point? I want students to get a lot of experience trying things out in their lesson or class. Students need the experience of trial and error, Especially when it comes to improvisation. Trial and error is what it's all about. Freedom and present time attention.

Your dream band:

I have my core dream band: Frank Martin, piano; Jeff Chambers, acoustic bass; Deszon Claiborne, drums; Wayne Wallace, trombone; and Melecio Magdaluyo, saxophones; and guest artist: Antonia Minnecola, North Indian vocal percussion. If and when I could, I would love to work with Terry Riley again—I sang with his group Khayal years ago. I love his music and his spirit. I would also love to work with Robin Lorentz, the New Music violinist who used to play with the California Ear Unit in LA. I would absolutely love to include my brother Carl Holm (checkout his Village Pulse website), who plays Senegalese drums, including his wonderful cadre of African drummers/colleagues! And always, if and when I could sing with Linda Tillery again—well that would be heaven on earth!

How would you describe the state of jazz today?

A beautiful mix.

What are some of the essential requirements to keep jazz alive and growing?

Rehearsing, playing out and listening. Keep the egos out of the arena as best as possible. Keep letting everyone know the music and the artists need constant and consistent financial support.

What is in the near future?

Making plans to record my second CD—I still have a quite a few originals that I want to get recorded. I'd like to record all the choral music and songs I wrote for Marcus Gardley's play, This World In a Women's Hands. I'd like to start recording all of the best vocal chants that I am creating with my new women's group, Molly Holm and The Impermanent Ensemble.

What's your greatest fear when you perform?

Not being in tune and feeling that pit in my stomach when I lose confidence because of a mistake that's happening!

What song would you like played at your funeral?

"Someday We'll All Be Free," sung by Donny Hathaway ("Hang on to the world, as it spins around; Just don't let the spin get you down"); "The Creator Has A Master Plan," sung by Leon Thomas; and Linda Tillery singing the Texas Prison Chain Gang song, "Ain't No Mo' Cane on Dis Brazas."

If I weren't a jazz musician, I would be a:

a dancer; a poet; a more formal student of African-American history and culture; a more serious student of Tai Chi and Qi Gong; a wildlife biologist; a professional hiker; a teacher of meditation.

Photo Credit

Courtesy of Molly Holm


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