Courtesy of Dave Holland



(August 21, 2002)

I first saw Dave Holland with Joe Henderson. I was familiar with Holland from his killing records with Sam Rivers (on Paul Bley's label) and Circle (ECM reissue). Then a buddy of mine who owned a used CD store turned me onto Holland's Conference of the Birds, which features both Rivers and Anthony Braxton. I was hooked. I've since seen Holland a dozen times, mostly with his quintet. He's had his quintet for years and initially, it took on some different lineups that included heavies Julian Priester and Kenny Wheeler, Steve Coleman, Smitty, Steve Wilson, Steve Nelson, Chris Potter, Billy Kilson, and Robin Eubanks. But it wasn't until his Prime Directives record that Holland started turning mainstream media heads. Usually the last ones on the deal team, the mainstream media has given Holland numerous accolades, yet the bassist remains humble, and even more impressive, driven. With a big band record hitting store shelves, Holland was kind enough to sit down with the Roadshow and talk about his quintet and the recent and much deserved success he has found as jazz's favorite son. As always, I bring it, unedited and in his own words.

FRED JUNG: Billy Kilson (drums), Robin Eubanks (trombone), Steve Nelson (vibes), and Chris Potter (saxophones) have been in your circle for some time now.

DAVE HOLLAND: Yeah, this particular group has been together five years, which is a great run and it's still going to (laughing), which I am glad to say. So we're very happy about that. It's a couple of things, Fred. A lot of it is the commitment of the musicians involved and everybody's got a feeling that this is something we want to do and prolong it for as long as we can.

FJ: Certainly, each individual musician has his own cross to bear to continue this musical aggregation, but as it is your name on the marquee, what sacrifices have you had to make?

DAVE HOLLAND: Well, I think financially, obviously, there's other ways to make in the music business than to have a jazz band. So there is certainly some financial sacrifices, but there is a lot of personal sacrifices you make in terms of time, time that you need to put into not just the music side, but the planning and the general running of what is a small business.

FJ: And how long will the quintet continue with Potter increasing popularity?

DAVE HOLLAND: I don't really have a sort of cutoff point. I just take it a day at a time. We're planning work a year and a half ahead at least for various things and the quintet is the main project that we're doing. The other thing is the big band project, but the quintet is pretty much the main focus of what I'm doing right now and so there is a lot of planning that goes into it.

FJ: Let's touch on the most recent quintet recording, Not for Nothin' on ECM.

DAVE HOLLAND: Well, the albums always, to me, represent in large part a chance to document the group at a stage in its playing and so the tunes were tunes we played for the best part of nine months prior to the recording. Some we played for the whole nine month period, but throughout the nine months we introduced new music to the band. Not for Nothin' was really a chance to go in and catalog and document those ideas. I feel very good about it. I think it really captures the ongoing development of the group as reflected in the first two CDs and then this one following. I'm very pleased with the results of it. And of course, we have the new CD coming out which is the big band CD, coming out shortly.

FJ: Vanity is human nature, so it would be understandable for you, as the leader, to compose the music, but rather, your approach has been more of a mentor than a leader, giving equal time to the other four composers and their respective work.

DAVE HOLLAND: It is not something that is particular to me. I think there are plenty of examples of Miles doing that and Duke Ellington. I think when you have first rate musicians and first rate composers in the band, it would only be denying myself the pleasure of being able to play some great compositions that these musicians write as well. To me, it only enhances the band. It enhances the music. It broadens it and gives it more scope. I have plenty of chance to play the music that I am writing and hear it played in an extremely understanding and sensitive way and I am happy to have those. That is sort of part of the tradition. A lot of working bands would feature music written by the members of the group. Those people are the best equipped to know what music the band can play and what possibilities are being presented, what potential is there to be explored in a composition. That is very much what we're about. I am interested in what their take on it is as well.

FJ: Has Eubanks' tenure in the quintet been the longest?

DAVE HOLLAND: Robin, yes, Robin joined the quintet that I had in the Eighties. I've known Robin the longest, certainly, and we've played on quite a few different things together. I've worked on a couple of his recordings that he's done and he's been involved in some things of mine. So we've had a very nice ongoing musical relationship and a personal one too for over fifteen years now.

FJ: With the quintet closing in on the apex of its popularity, why do a big band recording?

DAVE HOLLAND: Well, because it is there. The music was written. It felt good and it really is an extension of the quintet music in as much as the quintet is the nucleus of this band and the larger array of colors that are provided in the instrumentation just give us more opportunities to explore ideas compositionally. Conceptually, I see the music as being very closely related. It is not a departure by any means. Everybody as I say is involved in it and the big band represents just a larger setting really of the music we're playing as a small group.

FJ: Who is filling the various chairs in the big band?

DAVE HOLLAND: We have Antonio Hart on alto saxophone. Antonio has also been involved in a number of projects. He has sometimes come into the quintet to fill a space that somebody may have left by something else that they needed to do. So he has played with the quintet from time to time. He was also a featured member of an octet that I toured with last year. So Antonio Hart is on alto. Mark Gross is also on alto. Then Gary Smulyan is on baritone. Gary was also involved in the octet project that I did last year. Trumpets are Duane Eubanks and Alex Sipiaguine on second trumpet. Trombones are, of course, Robin on trombone and then Josh Roseman and Andre Hayward.

FJ: Was the octet project the seed for the big band record?

DAVE HOLLAND: Really no, it actually happened after we did the performance in Montreal as a big band. That is when this group was first put together, was in 2000, in the summer of 2000 and I was one of the featured artists in the festival that year, so I got a chance to present four concerts in the first week of the festival and one of them was the big band. So that started then. The octet came about through a British Arts Council tour that I did, they supported and the proposal that I made was for an octet. Obviously, the octet did give me a chance to work out some ideas too, but it actually didn't come before the big band oddly enough.

FJ: The logistics of taking a small ensemble on the road can be a pain in the ass. To take a big band, those complications multiply exponentially. Have any problems come about?

DAVE HOLLAND: To be quite honest with you, Fred, we've only toured a very slight amount with the band so far and everything has worked very well. I have a very good team of people that help me to have things go as smoothly as possible. But there are logistics. There is a lot of things to be taken care of, a lot of details. You do your best to make it work properly. You count a lot on the discipline, self-discipline of the musicians in the band too to make it easier. That is something we're counting on as well.

FJ: As a composer, what are the subtle differences of writing for a larger ensemble to that of the quintet?

DAVE HOLLAND: Well, you know, Fred, the quintet, I started the first quintet in '82 and it really has been the model for me to work out some ideas about how to write for instruments and to make the most of the instrumentation that you're working with and so on. I found that to be an excellent workshop to be working out ideas. The larger big band, for me, I've enjoyed big bands all of my life. I've listened to them and played in some and admired the work of particular arrangers. So I've tried to learn along the way some of the ways people use a big band and how it can be. What are the options, so to speak and then try to play them to the musical concepts that I am working on and the compositions that I write.

FJ: Over the past five years, you've had a rigorous touring and recording schedule.

DAVE HOLLAND: I think longer than that (laughing), but it is true. The last five years.

FJ: Any chance of slowing down or are the lulls merely the calm before the storm?

DAVE HOLLAND: The problem at the moment is all the things I am doing are things that I want to do, my choice projects. The only things that I have done in this year, in the last two years really are the quintet and a few big band ideas. This summer I toured with a special project group, but most of my time is taken up by either preparation or working with the quintet or big band. I don't want to slow up right now. It is just sort of a time when I think it is to be enjoyed. I have the opportunity to do some really nice projects and to have a working band, which has been a goal of mine for a long time, to have various possibilities to present different musical settings and so on, which is coming together for me now. It is a time to enjoy that and to be doing it. Hopefully, there will be a time later in my life where maybe I will want to pace things a little differently. It feels like everything I am doing right now is something that I want to do. It is producing some results that I am happy about.

FJ: And with your popularity has come critical praise.

DAVE HOLLAND: I think expectations will always weigh on a musician. When you're a young musician they weigh on you in certain ways and that these ways might change as you get older, but no, you have something that I think a musician has to deal with is how not to be pursued by those expectations, but really just do the work at hand, try to keep a positive perspective on what you're trying to do. At the same time, it is being happy about the recognition the band's got and the music's got and the opportunities that I'm getting right now. I am also still trying to keep it in perspective and it is still about getting up on stage and trying to play the best you can, trying to write another good arrangement or another good tune. Those are humbling experiences (laughing) and so I am happy to be involved in that and enjoy the challenge. There's a lot of different perspectives on your career, on your work.

FJ: And the future?

DAVE HOLLAND: We're touring until the end of the year. We've got a few quintet dates and I would say the majority of the things we're doing before the end of the year are going to be big band. Then next year we pick up again with the quintet. We're touring. We're putting together another CD for the quintet, which is going to be probably coming from some live recordings we did at Birdland in New York last November. We're going to listen to that and decide on some material that can be released from that. So that's sort of the next project for next year.

FJ: Any regrets?

DAVE HOLLAND: I don't think that does us any good. I think you've got to take what's happened as an experience on which to build and to move forward. No, I don't have any regrets. The decisions that I've made at various points, important decisions, I think have been the correct ones and I felt right at the time and looking back with reflection, it seemed the right thing to do. I don't have any regrets about that at all, no. Even if you make mistakes, having regrets to me is about not having done what you thought was the best thing to do at that particular time and acted on it. You regret if those opportunities are missed. But if you did the best you could at the time and you're true to your own things that you believe in.

FJ: It's been a long time coming.

DAVE HOLLAND: Thanks a lot, Fred.

Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and is ready for some football. Comments? Email Him