Friday, February 25, 2011

Vito Price + Chicago = Beautiful Love

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Vito Price isn't famous. He isn't the world's finest saxophonist. He isn't suffering from the pangs of public disapproval. He isn't a newly-discovered figure out of the past.

To state it simply, he is a musician satisfied to play the way he wants to play. He's not attempting to set precedents or unify forms or set inspirational harmonic patterns. When I asked him about this LP, his first as a leader, he said, "I'm thrilled that I finally got the chance to record. I felt ready. This is my idea of happy, swinging music."

- Don Gold, Managing Editor, Down Beat Magazine

Youth provides a different view of the world.

On the one hand, this view is broad and all-encompassing brought on by a wide-eyed fascination with the world and everything in it. It all seems so fresh and exciting.

On the other hand, it’s limited because there is little judgment based on experience or the ability to discern based on acquired knowledge.

As a case in point, the first time I heard the music on tenor saxophonist Vito Price’s 1958 Swinging the Loop [Argo LP 631] album, it really thrilled me. I thought it swung like mad and I just couldn’t get enough of it. I played it all the time.

Although I came to own the LP as a gift from a family friend, a DJ who was always passing on “Demo” copies that he couldn’t play on his AM radio show which featured more popular music, I had no idea who Vito Price was.

Frankly, neither did any of the other musicians in my circle of friends at the time.  Mention the name “Vito Price” and it was sure to be greeted with a number of blank stares.

And yet, for a while, I knew more about the tenor sax playing of Vito than I did that of Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young; chronologically, knowledge of the music of these “Giants” of the tenor was to come later after my view of the Jazz world had become a bit more sophisticated and informed.

Swinging the Loop is made up of 5 tracks that were recorded with a 9-piece group with Vito out front on tenor and 5 cuts using a combo: each set of 5 tunes comprised Side One and Side Two of the LP, respectively.

For some reason, I only played the side featuring the quintet made up of Vito along with Freddie Green on guitar, Lou Levy on piano, Max Bennett on bass and Gus Johnson on drums. Too lazy to get up from my practice pads [used in lieu of actual drums to keep the neighbors from rushing the front door] and turn the record over on the changer?

As its title would imply, the album was recorded in Chicago, which was to later become an oft-visited city for me due to business and professional activities.  One of the great things about most Jazz LPs from the 1950s was that they included informative liner notes. The honors for Vito’s album go to Don Gold who, at the time, was the Managing Editor of Down Beat Magazine.

So that you, too, might become more familiar with Vito Price and the music on this album in the same manner as I did, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has reprinted Don’s insert notes below.

It also asked the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD to develop the video at the conclusion of this feature using the Beautiful Love quintet track from the LP.

Ironically, after playing the album on an almost daily basis after it was first issued, I had all but forgotten about it until one day, when a Jazz buddy picked me up for a luncheon get-together with mutual friends and the music from it was playing on his car CD changer!

Much to my delight and surprise, Jordi Pujol had reissued Swinging the Loop on his Fresh Sound label [FSR CD #110].

I couldn’t believe my ears: after 50 years, it seemed that there were now three people familiar with the music of Vito Price!

© -Don Gold, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Liner note writers are a most peculiar sort.

They behave erratically much of the time, searching for the attractive approach to the specific subject involved. This endless search, proceeding from one LP to the next, is characterized by constant anguish and inevitable frustration.

This situation is not at all unusual. After all, LPs are cranked out today with the machine-like rapidity so characteristic of our production line age.

What, then, does the liner note author do? Obviously, he searches for new adjectives, new ways of interpreting music and its performers, new gags to enchant the record buyers. There are a variety of ways to accomplish these ends.

The writer with a substantial background in jazz can, for example, say that he has "discovered" the talent presented on the LP. He can, in essence, tell his own life story.

Another approach calls for writing an extensive treatise on a subject not necessarily related to the LP. This takes the form of discussing elementary geometry or the sartorial brilliance of Adolph Menjou.

Another writer might compare the featured performer on the LP with another performer who plays the same instrument. This allows the liner note creator to state his own preferences rather discreetly. If he is not fond of the performer on the LP for which he is writing the notes, he can simply discuss another performer. This is a mild form of escapism, a kind of facing the monetary benefit without facing any of its accompanying annoyances.

The liner note writer, then, is a kind of displaced person, unable to write at great length and equally unable to freely state his views with regularity.

In this case, I'm not faced with any of these problems.

Vito Price isn't famous. He isn't the world's finest saxophonist. He isn't suffering from the pangs of public disapproval. He isn't a newly-discovered figure out of the past.

To state it simply, he is a musician satisfied to play the way he wants to play. He's not attempting to set precedents or unify forms or set inspirational harmonic patterns. When I asked him about this LP, his first as a leader, he said, "I'm thrilled that I finally got the chance to record. I felt ready. This is my idea of happy, swinging music."

In other words, Price is hoping that the taste of some record buyers will coincide with his own. This kind of uncluttered approach is rather rare these days.

For the amateur musicologists, here are some basic facts on Price.

He's 28, New York-born, and has been playing the tenor and alto saxes since he was 14. During his high school days he worked with jazz groups in the New York area. After high school, he served an apprenticeship on the road, with the bands of Bob Chester, Art Mooney, Tony Pastor, and with Chubby Jackson's small group.

In 1951 he entered the marines and spent two years serving in a marine band. He enrolled at the Manhattan school of music in 1953 and stayed on for two years, supplementing his studies with work as leader of his own group and as a member of Jerry Wald's band.

In the summer of 1955 he came to Chicago. In February, 1956 he joined the staff orchestra at station WGN and has been a member of the orchestra there ever since.

He participated in both Chubby Jackson sessions for Argo in recent months.

When I solicited his thoughts on this LP, he stated them readily.

"I had wanted to record so badly," he said. "I guess I never had been at the right place at the right time. This is my first opportunity. And I was given a clear road to do just what I wanted to do.

"I'm not a far out musician. I'm not trying to blaze new paths. These sides are pure, clean, and honest. I just tried to swing. I play because I like to play. I dig it," he concluded.

It is natural that a WGN staff man would look to his compatriots at the station for assistance on his first LP as a leader. Price did just that. Except for the rhythm sections utilized, all the members of the band on this LP work with Price at WGN.

They're used to playing together, as Price noted to me. All the big band charts for this date were prepared by Bill McRea, another WGN staff man, making the existing compatibility that much greater.

Joining the WGN corps are Remo Biondi, a fine Chicago gui­tarist; Marty Clausen, the excellent drummer with the Dan Belloc band, both present on the big band tracks. When Price was ready to cut this LP, he discovered that Ella Fitzgerald was working in Chicago. Astute enough to know a good rhythm section when he heard one, he persuaded Lou Levy, piano; Max Bennett, bass, and Gus Johnson, drums, to make the session. Johnson, due to illness, was able to participate in just the small group (Price-with-rhythm section) tracks, but the Levy-Bennett combination appears on all the tracks in this LP. Finally, the incomparable Freddie Green, guitarist and pivot man of the Count Basic band, joined in to make the small group tracks that much more of a delight.

Essentially, this is Price's LP. On the five big band tracks he is the major soloist, with Levy the only other soloist. The same holds true for the five small group tracks. In addition to being featured on tenor (and alto on In A Mellow Tone), Price contributed three originals — Swinging the Loop, Duddy, Eye Strain (dedicated to Price's wife, who, in knitting a sweater for him, discovered that she needed glasses).

This, then, is a set highlighted by the warm-toned horn of Vito Price. It features Price in big band and small group settings, on ballads and blues, up-tempo and medium tempo approaches.

If you've purchased this LP, the Argo Records management will be pleased. If you've read this far, I'll be pleased. But if you enjoy this LP, Vito Price would like to know. Drop him a card it his home—561 Arlington Place, Chicago 14, ILL. After all, a little encouragement can't do any harm.” 

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Insistent Eric Ineke

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Jazz drummers play time differently.

Some imply time by playing it more lightly while others really emphasize it or “step on it.”

Some drummers play time in a driving, very aggressive manner while others choose a more laid-back approach.

Time can be punctuated with "bombs" and “poly-rhythms” or not interrupted at all by such accents.

The most obvious stylistic examples would be to compare the Swing Era time-keeping of Gene Krupa to that of Max Roach during the Bebop Era to the current styles of Jazz drumming which have been largely influenced by Elvin Jones and Tony Williams.

If the music is very arranged with the instrumentalists playing lots of notes, then a busy drummer would probably not be welcomed in it.

On the other hand, if the music has a great deal of open space, playing more figures or accents behind the time to fill-in might be appropriate.

Other than the cardinal principles of not rushing or dragging, there is no set way for a drummer to go about playing time.

It’s all in how your hear time or, if you will, how you “feel” it.

As drummers develop their own approach to playing time, they tend to build affinities with other drummers who share their view of how time should feel and sound.

The sound part of the equation has to do with choice of cymbals, how the drums are tuned, and how and where accents, fills and solos are played.

While we certainly have undying admiration for the more technical style of time-keeping evidenced by Buddy Rich, Louie Bellson and Joe Morello, and although we had close proximity over the years for observing the approaches of Shelly Manne, Mel Lewis and Stan Levey, we have always had a preference for the time-keeping of Philly Joe Jones and its current exponent, Kenny Washington.

Here’s Philly JJ at work: 

Kenny Washington is the drummer on numerous CerraJazz LTD videos:

Another of our favorite drummers playing in the style of Philly Joe Jones is Eric Ineke.

Eric is based in Holland and we first heard his work on a 1981 Criss Cross recording by the late Jazz guitarist, Jimmy Raney, and subsequently on recordings by Dutch Jazz pianist Rein de Graaff, alto saxophonist Herb Geller, who has been based in Germany for many years, and soprano saxophonist David Liebman.

Eric keeps time in a manner that is best described as Philly Joe Jones-lite.

Like Philly, his time-keeping is very insistent, but his accents, background figures and fills are more spaced-out.

He’s not as busy as Philly which serves to make his time-keeping sound even more firm and resolute.

Since 2006, Eric has been leading his own quintet, The JazzXpress, in which his driving time-keeping can be heard in support of some of Holland’s finest, young Jazz musicians: Rik Mol on trumpet and flugelhorn, Sjoerd Dijkhuizen on tenor saxophone, Rob van Bavel on piano and bassist and bass guitarist, Marius Betts.

The JazzXpress’ latest CD is entitled Xpressions in Time [Daybreak DBCHR 75358] and the crackerjack graphics production team at CerraJazz LTD has developed two videos around audio tracks from the album.

The first of these, Marius Beets’ Boppa [named after the bassist’s son’s baby rhinoceros plush toy], is used in conjunction with a tribute to Jaap van de Kamp’s photographic essay – One Night Stand: Jazzconcerten in Nederland, 1947-1967. See if your ears can pick up Eric switching ride cymbals behind Rob van Bavel’s piano solo beginning at minutes.

And the same group, this time with Marius on bass guitar, is featured in the following video on Beets’ original composition Aotearoa which has Eric tastefully playing tympani mallets on his drum kit.

At the conclusion of this feature, you will find a video tribute to Eric which includes as its audio track Body Movement, an original composition by Sjoerd Dijkhuizen and Marius Beets which is set to the changes of Body and Soul.

© -Jeroen de Valk, March 2009 - copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“On November 11968, a 21-years old Dutch carpet salesman and part-time drummer decided to become a full-time musician. His life had become busier and busier, with gigs backing various soloists - among them Hank Mobley - at night and working in his brother's Persian carpet store during the day.

When he was offered a job with the Storktown Dixie Kids, an Eddie Condon-like swing band with an interesting touring schedule, he knew he could quit his day job and concentrate on the music. In 1971, he joined pianist Rein de Graaff's trio, with whom he still accompanies visiting Americans.

His name was Eric Ineke. He entered the music business when jazz was suffering from the British invasion - The Beatles and the Stones were big then, anc jazz's popularity had diminished dramatically - but he managed to survive, playing concerts. "I never did a lot of studio work. I want to be on stage and play; that's what I live for," Ineke states in his fortieth year as a musician.

Ineke soon earned a reputation as a multi-faceted musician - "I play bebop, hard bop and beyond" - with a boundless enthusiasm. On top of that he's a solid professional who's always on time wherever the gig may be and who never complains about life 'on the road.' "Recently, I drove 600 miles from my home in The Hague for one gig with my own band in Jazzclub Unterfahrt in Munich. No big deal. As long as I car play, I’m just fine."

In those forty years, his groove became deeper and deeper. "I also learned to leave open space, I learned when not to play. And Elvin Jones taught me you don't have to pound away at the beat all the time; when I take an eight-bar solo, you may not notice the amount of bars while I'm at it, but I'll play the exact length of those eight bars."

He took some lessons with John Engels, the country's premier drummer. "He gave me Philly Joe Jones' LP Big Band Sounds, which was a real eye-opener. I was crazy about Philly's phrasing."

In his first years on the road, Dexter Gordon and Johnny Griffin were very helpful. "Dexter wanted me to play like Kenny Clarke, in an earlier style than of Elvin's. While backing him, my time became stronger. I had to be on top of the bear constantly because his time was extremely laid-back. Johnny Griffin asked me to play strong accents with the bass drum. 'Like AT' he said, referring to Art Taylor. I really paid my dues working with Griffin... He would count off an incredible up-­tempo, then let the pianist play chorus after chorus, and when you thought: 'I'm exhausted,' he would finally start his own solo and make the whole band burn even more."

Eric Ineke is mostly self-taught, but is a teacher now himself. For over twenty years he has been teaching young jazz drummers at the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague and the Koorenhu’s, a music school in his home town.

After accompanying an encyclopedia's worth of jazz giants -  just go to, click on 'biography' and then on 'people'  - he started leading bands himself. In 1999, Eric became the co-leader of a band with young pianist Wolfert Brederode. "Wolfert said that I should be billed as a co-leader, after having contributed so much to the band."

In 2006, Eric Ineke's JazzXpress came about. "While driving to a gig with David Liebman in Antwerp, Belgium, Dave said it was about time I started my own hard bop group. 'You should do this, and ask some good youngsters.' That night, Marius Beets was on bass and tenor saxophonist Sjoerd Dijkhuizen came by. Marius said: This is what we've been waiting for!' Sjoerd immediately asked if he could be part of it. Of course he could!"

For the piano chair Eric asked Rob van Bavel, with whom he had developed 'a great rhythmic rapport' after they both had been part of the Piet Noordijk Quartet and the high-energy Jarmo Hoogendijk/Ben van den Dungen Quintet. Young trumpet sensation Rik Mol - just 22 while I'm writing this - was recommended by his former teacher Jarmo Hoogendijk, who had to retire from stage because of a lip injury.

The band's name was made up by Eric's fellow musicians. "They decided that my name should be part of it, and they invented the word Xpress, with the capital X. It looks good on jazz club and festival posters."

Later that same year, the band's first CD was issued: Flames 'n' Fire, on Fred Dubiez's Daybreak Records. "We did compositions I grew up with, by Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Wayne Shorter, and some tunes by band members in the same idiom: hard bop and beyond."
David Liebman wrote in his extensive liner notes: ‘Eric is one of my all time favorite drummers and the times we have played together are memorable to me. He is a first class MUSICIAN who knows what is called for at the time as well as being completely dedicated to the art form.’"

Jeroen de Valk,

March 2009

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Quincy’s Day

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

The editorial staff at JazzProfiles wanted to get an early start on wishing Quincy Jones a Happy Birthday – he turns 78 on March 14th – with the following video tribute to him.

That was the easy part.

The more difficult part was what to say about this highly-esteemed musician, composer, arranger, impresario and entrepreneur that hasn’t been said already.

Few Jazz musicians have ever been as universally acclaimed and admired as has been Quincy, and deservedly so.

As Brian Priestley commented:

“As he approaches the … [78th] anniversary of his birth (March 14, 1933, in Chicago), Quincy Jones can look back on a full life. Unusually for someone who is not a singer or an actor, he is a superstar. If his autobiographical book and the 1990 documentary film about him are perhaps ambigu­ous as to whether he sees himself as a superstar, there is no question that is how he is regarded by others.

Musicians are quick to recognize pretensions or falsehoods, but such attributes are never mentioned in Quincy's connection. Only admiration, and a certain amazement as to what he achieved, are the standard reactions.”

Given the many legal restrictions on the use of music from any of Quincy’s recordings, we turned to pianist Mike LeDonne and his sextet for the version of Quincy’s original composition Jessica’s Day on the video’s sound track.

The tune was first performed by Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band during its 1956 tour of “the Near and Middle East and South America” for the US State Department.

Dizzy in South America was the topic of an earlier feature on JazzProfiles which you can locate by going here and here.

Quincy wrote Jessica’s Day for Jazz writer Nat Hentoff’s daughter and it was later recorded by Count Basie’s Band in 1959 and by Cannonball Adderley’s group in 1962.

Joining pianist Mike LeDonne are Ryan Kisor on trumpet, Jon Gordon on alto saxophone, tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman, bassist Peter Washington and drummer Lewis Nash.

Happy Birthday, Qunicy, and thanks for all you’ve done for Jazz, both at home and abroad.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Meet Ilja Reijngoud – Jazz in Holland

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

I have a special fondness for trombone choirs.

So when trombonist Ilja Reijngoud’s Untamed World Maxanter CD [MAX 75378] arrived, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles seized upon it as an opportunity to ask the crackerjack graphics team at CerraJazz LTD to develop the following video tribute to Ilja and his music as part of its ongoing Jazz in Holland series.

In addition to his own group, Ilja can be heard on many of the recordings of the Metropole Orchestra and the Metropole Orchestra Big Band where he is a resident member of this famous Netherlands-based musical aggregation.

Ilja also has his own website where you can locate more detailed biographical and discographical information.

Joining Ilya on his original composition entitled Running on Eggshells are fellow trombonists Bart van Lier, Jörgen van Rijen, Jan Oosting, Evert Josemanders Lode Mertens and Martin van den Berg [bass trombone]. They are supported by a rhythm section featuring Martijn van Iterson [guitar] Rob van Bavel [keyboards], Marius Beets [bass] and Marcel Serierse [drums].

And here’s another version of the tune, this time with Ilja fronting a quartet with van Iterson, Beets [pronounced “Bates”] and Serierse.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Willis “Bill” Holman – Living International Treasure

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In Japan, a select few of those who maintain the country’s artistic traditions or make a unique contribution to them are accorded the respect of the nation by being designated as a Living National Treasure [a considerable amount of schimolies also come with the title each year].

When it comes to composing and arranging for Jazz big bands, no one is more deserving of such consideration than Willis “Bill” Holman.

However, because this country does not have such an award, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles has decided to step up on behalf of grateful Jazz fans everywhere and to bestow upon Bill the distinction of being a Living International Treasure.

Pianist Christian Jacob is hugely busy heading up his on trio, working with vocalist Tierney Sutton and performing in a number of Southern California based bands such as those led by trumpeter Carl Saunders as well as Phil Norman’s Tentet. But Christian also makes it a point to appear regularly with Bill Holman’s big band. 

Christian is a friend of the family so when I asked him about working with Bill despite his choc-a-block schedule he candidly responded: “It’s an honor and a privilege.”

The last guy in the world to use such superlatives about himself would be Bill Holman.

Yet, I’ve have never known a musician who doesn’t have the utmost respect for Bill and who wouldn’t feel the same way as Christian about the chance to work with him.

Mention Bill’s name and Jazz musicians and Jazz fans just smile – knowingly!

And speaking of “knowingly,” when we decided to do a feature on Bill and his music, we turned to Doug Ramsey to request permission to use some of his many writings about Bill and his music which appear as insert notes in a number of Bill’s CD’s.

Doug, whose marvelous writing skills are on exhibit daily in his Rifftides blog graciously gave his approval to do so.

After you’ve read these, we think you will agree that no one writes more insightfully about Bill’s music.

But before turning to Doug’s writing and in order to put Bill Holman’s career in an earlier perspective, let’s start with some comments from Andre Previn who at the time he wrote these liner notes to Bill Holman in a Jazz Orbit [Andex A 3004/V.S.O.P. #25CD] was a pianist and a fledgling conductor-composer of Hollywood film scores.

Each in their own way, both Andre and Doug are also “Living International Treasures,” but those are other JazzProfiles stories for another time.

© -Andre Previn, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“Bill Holman's compositions and arrangements are both experimen­tal and basic at the same time; they never for one moment cease swinging, and yet their rhythmic complexities are brilliant. His har­monic sense is quite daring at times, and still his changes are com­fortable and logical to play on. All his pieces have form and definite orderliness; they have strength and an underlying feeling of 'There's something left in reserve, this isn't the climax yet."

His voices are for the most part linear and his sections play a good deal in unison; however, the interweaving of the lines is so assured and musically sophisticated as to create a bigger harmonic sound than the thickest of chordal arranging. He builds his arrangements carefully and soundly and rarely succumbs to the screaming flag-waver ending so popular with many big bands.

He has limited himself to the orthodox jazz instrumentation; trumpets, trombones, saxes and rhythm, but his knowledge of their possibilities is enormous. Being a highly talented instrumentalist himself, his arrangements are relatively easy to play. Everything lies well on the horns, a fact for which Bill is looked upon with gratitude by the playing musicians.

He is very fond of the use of canonic imitation in his writing, and uses it to great advantage throughout this album. From a composer-arranger's point of view, he has already arrived at an enviable position: namely that his style is totally distinctive, recognizable, 'and personal; it is possible to say "That's Bill Holman" after listening to 8 bars of his music, and that is a very major accomplishment for a creative musician.

Bill was born in Olive, California in 1927. He played clarinet and tenor before first attempting to write. He worked with Ike Carpenter, Charlie Barnet, Stan Kenton, Shelly Manne, the Lighthouse All-Stars and Shorty Rogers, and is currently the co-leader of a Quintet with Mel Lewis. Needless to say, he has written for all the above-mentioned as well as for countless other libraries.

In this album, which is comprised of four originals and five standards, Bill has at­tempted to integrate the light rhythm section sound and time feel of a small group with the orchestral possibilities of a big band. The per­sonnel of this recording band is remarkable, and the soloists (in­cluding Bill) contribute some wonderful moments. Special mention should be made of the rhythm section (Mel Lewis, Vic Feldman, Bud­dy Clark) for so brilliantly accomplishing what Bill set out to do.

I think it best to forego descriptions of the individual tracks; however, one more facet of the writing should be mentioned. In the 5 stand­ards, Bill has a knack of turning the tunes into completely personal compositions as soon as the theme has been stated. His counter lines and extensions, both melodically and harmonically, are such that were he to leave out the first sixteen bars of the published melody, he could very easily pass each arrangement off as a highly respectable original.

Bill Holman most assuredly is a first-rate sax­ophonist, but his true instrument is the orchestra, and he plays it with musicianship, honesty and brilliance.”

ANDRE PREVIN August 12, 1958

© -Doug Ramsey. Used with permission, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"At last, we have a new Bill Holman album, cause to celebrate. It is the second by the band Holman has led since 1975 and only the seventh by a big band under his name. In a 45-year career, his average is one album every seven-and-a-half years.

Averages can be deceiving. Four of the seven Holman big band albums were recorded in the mid-to-late 1950s. From Capitol's Bill Holman's Great Big Band in 1960 to JVC's Bill Holman Band in 1988, there was nothing.

The fact that he wasn't recording with his own band doesn't mean that Bill was sitting around. Holman is one of the most influential and admired arrangers in modern American music. He is also one of the busiest. He is acclaimed for his writing for Charlie Barnet, Stan Kenton, Count Basic, Maynard Ferguson, Gerry Mulligan, Louis Bellson, Woody Herman, Terry Gibbs, Shelly Manne, the Lighthouse All Stars, Charlie Shoemake and Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show Orchestra. His arrangements for Carmen McRae, The Fifth Dimension, Peggy Lee, Natalie Cole and other singers gleam like jewels in the jumble and dreariness of contemporary popular music. He is commissioned by colleges, universities and music festivals in this country. He is frequently called to Europe to write for and conduct orchestras in Germany, Holland and England.

The naturalness and humanity underlying the mastery in Holman's music make his work an object of admiration and inspiration to other composers and arrangers, including those at the highest levels. He discussed the basics of his approach in a 1987 interview in the magazine Crescendo International:

"I could describe my ideals in jazz writing as: conti­nuity and flow, combined with swing and vitality, with a fairly traditional base. It's got more involved as time's gone by, but basically those are my guiding principles."

My father was not a musician. But he knew a thing or two about how to assess quality, and he disliked hyperbole. When I was in the early stages of teenagery, I once used a collection of superlatives to tell him about a pianist I'd heard.

"Oh, really," my dad replied, "and what do other piano players think of him?"

The Art Ramsey peer review method of analysis is the equivalent of the carpenter's level, a useful way to keep ignorance, excessive enthusiasm and rampant opinion from destroying balance.

What do other arrangers and composers think of Bill Holman?  A survey of elite jazz writers of several generations will give you an idea.

MIKE ABENE: "I first heard Bill Holman when I was 14 years old and just getting into arranging. I thought then and think now that he is one of the most original and challenging writers in jazz. Given his stature, he's not as appreciated or recognized as some other writers, and that's a mystery of the business. He turns a standard song inside out and creates his own piece of music out of it, 'Tennessee Waltz,' for instance, or 'Moon of Manakoora.' In that regard, he's like Gil Evans, a real original. And he's writing better than ever. "

MANNY ALBAM: "The guy is one of my heroes and has been ever since I first heard one of his charts. He's just off-center enough to make everything interesting. He puts together beautiful stuff. In 'Make My Day,' which I heard around the time he first did it for a band in Germany, he took another step into the unknown with those twists and turns in the trombones."

BOB BROOKMEYER: "Of all the other peoples' music I've played in my life, I'd rather play Bill Holman's. He makes it such a delight. It's so naturally well crafted that it speaks when you play it. For all of us who are composers, he's been a role model in multi-voice writing and experimenting with longer forms. He was one of the first to do that and is still one of the most successful."

RALPH BURNS: "I love Bill's writing, always have. It's pure jazz, but he writes everything very classically. It’s linear and simple and clear.”

BENNY CARTER: “I like Bill’s work. Everything he’s done that I’ve heard, I’ve enjoyed very much.”

JOHN CLAYTON: “For my money, Bill Holman is the king of linear composing and arranging. I am really fond of the things he did with Mel Lewis and later with Jeff Hamilton on drums. He always seems to have drummers and rhythm section people who understand how they are to fit into his linear concepts."

QUINCY JONES: "I've been a fan of Bill Holman's since I was in knee pants. He stands for all the good stuff in music that God sends down when you believe. Nadia Boulanger said it takes feeling, sensation, believing, attachment and knowledge. Bill has known this for a long time. I'm his friend and loyal fan. Check him out."

BILL KIRCHNER: "Bill Holman is 'Mr. Line.' His linear concepts are among the most important innovations ever used in a jazz orchestra. His chart on 'What's New' on the Contemporary Concepts album for Kenton is a masterpiece."

DENNIS MACKREL: "As an arranger listening to Bill's music, you come across devices and lines that are part of your writing, which means that he has become part of you. He does more with two lines than most arrangers can do with twenty. He runs a simple idea through all the ensembles and makes everything sound amazingly full. Five bars, and you know it's him. I was part of a project Bill did for a German radio orchestra in Kiln.  He wrote a suite that involved full
strings and the big band. Being inside that incredible sound was an experience I'll never forget."

JOHNNY MANDEL: "An immensely talented guy. His music is ageless. It's easy to play. It flows.  And there's always a sense of humor. The things he wrote in the fifties sound as if they were written yesterday. Nobody can write counterpoint and make it sound improvised and have it swing like Bill does. You can tell an arrangement of Holman's the minute you hear it. He is a total original. "

BOB MINTZER:  "To me, Bill is the consummate big band arranger and composer. He has influenced most of the contemporary big band writing of the past twenty years in one way or another. I'm very fond of the way he uses certain kinds of contrapuntal techniques. He's a very colorful arranger, interesting and intelligent. He uses the big band instrumentation thoughtfully and thoroughly.  I'm a big fan.  People say they hear his influence in my writing and I'm sure that's true."

GERRY MULLIGAN:   "Along with his other more obvious qualities as a writer, Bill possesses a great sense of humor; his music is fun to play, and that's something I admire very much."

MARIA SCHNEIDER:   "Bill Holman has a sound, a beautiful and personal sound.  I'll never forget the impact his wonderful arrangement of 'Just Friends' had on me.   It's so daring, so simple, and so uniquely and perfectly him. It has just the bare ingredients, but through it comes his sound. It's impossible for him not to be him. That's the definition of a true artist."

DON SEBESKY: "Bill Holman is the single most impor­tant influence in my musical life. I listen to his music, literally, every day, including his stuff from 40 years ago. I hear nothing, past or present, that comes close to it because he combines the objective and subjective parts of music into a seamless whole. By that I mean that the music is always swinging loosely, yet underlying the loose swinging is a tight musical structure created by an able musical mind. It sounds improvised but there's real control at the heart of it."

ARTIE SHAW: "Bill's a great arranger. He's one of the guys out there who's extending the medium, illuminating the material. His work is extremely interesting. He's writing great American music. It's nice to do what you do so well that knowledgeable people buy it. You don't get rich that way; he's never going to cruise the Aegean like Rod Stewart does. But who wants to listen to Rod Stewart? Bill is what an artist ought to be."

GERALD WILSON: "Bill is one of the best writers that we have today. He's a fine scorer with his own way of doing things and making them sound great. I listen for the overall sound of a band. I'm always impressed with his."

Following evaluations by artists of the stature of those quoted above, it would super­fluous to add detailed analysis of the music in A View From The Side. The compositions, arrangements and performances speak eloquently for themselves. The soloists are iden­tified in an adjoining exhibit. Bill says that the titles of his compositions here have no significance beyond the obvious. He has short explanatory comments on three of the pieces.

"The second half of the opening phrase of Petaluma Lu' came to me when I was prac­ticing the tenor saxophone," he says. "Then I had to devise a first half to go with it. The form of 'I Didn't Ask' is like that of Charles Ives' The Unanswered Question,' with the trumpet statement and all of those busy voices. 'The Peacocks' has been in the book for a while, but I wasn't happy with it until we switched from trumpets to flugelhorns. Then it came together." I will offer one observation that a listener may find useful: For all its humor, swing and accessibility, Mr. Holman's music has depths, layers and complexities. Enjoyable as the surfaces of his pieces may be, beneath them are satisfactions that reveal themselves only when they receive full attention in repeated hearings. Such is the nature of serious music that is full of fun, whether it is by Mozart, Ives, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker or Bill Holman."

-DOUG RAMSEY (May 1995)

Author, Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers (University of Arkansas Press); contributor, Jazz Times; contributing editor, Texas Monthly.

© -Doug Ramsey. Used with permission, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

"Except for '"Round Midnight," Thelonious Monk the composer is all but absent from the repertoires of big bands. Hall Overton's celebrated arrangements for Monk and large ensembles were essentially orchestrated transcriptions of Monk piano solos. They were beautifully made and well recorded in the late 1950s on the Riverside label and early 1960s on Columbia. They inspired masterly solos from Phil Woods, Donald Byrd, Pepper Adams, Steve Lacy and Monk himself. They were reflections of Monk's compositional and improvisational genius, not vehicles for the art of the arranger.

Another big band project involving Monk blew its potential. Oliver Nelson, a brilliant arranger, wrote a 1968 album called Monk's Blues, but it turned out to be a collection of routine settings for Monk solos. The arrangements neither probed the uniqueness of Monk's compositions nor demonstrated Nelson's talent as an orchestrator. It may have been the only dud of Nelson's career. Until now, oddly, no other major arranger has applied himself to a collection of Monk's works.

Willis Leonard Holman, known as Bill, called Willis by his friends, is universally considered a towering figure among jazz writers. He has been a Monk fan since he first heard the celebrated 1958 live recordings Monk made at New York's Five Spot with Johnny Griffin, Ahmed Abdul-Malik, Art Blakey and Roy Haynes.

"Before that, I had known "Round Midnight,' and had played 'Well, You Needn't' and other pieces of his in jam sessions as early as 195O," Holman says. "In the fifties, Monk was a hard sell. You know what they said: 'He can't play. His tunes are so weird. He doesn't follow the cycle of fifths like you're supposed to.' Piano players really used to hate him. I suppose some still do. His technique was so far removed from what everybody was doing. But, little by little, people have come around. You have to spend a lot of time to get Monk inside."

Holman internalized Monk long ago. He has had Monk pieces in his band's book since the 1970s and included "I Mean You" in his 1988 JVC album Bill Holman Band. In prepar­ing for this compact disc, he sought out Monk's recordings to identify the pieces he wanted to arrange, but once those decisions were made, he cut off contact with Monk."

"I wanted to do it my way," Holman says, "so I decided to leave the area."
Holman says that his writing for the Monk pieces is more like the work he has been doing the past few years for orchestras in Germany, Holland and the Scandinavian countries.

"I'd always had that American big band thing in the back of my head when I was writing for my band," he says. "I didn't feel that the traffic in this country would bear too much 'out' stuff, that Americans like big bands to sound like big bands. This has abrupt changes in texture and mood, operating outside of the typical dance band vocabulary."

In recent years, Holman has been applying lessons from 20th Century classical composers. Those writers include Igor Stravinsky, Charles Ives, Witold Lutoslawksi, Gyorgy Ligeti and, most powerfully, Bela Bartok. The attentive listener can detect their touches -some specific, some atmospheric - in Holman pieces like "Further Adventures" for the Metropole Orchestra in Holland and "City of Angles" for the WDR Orchestra of Cologne. The classical influences are present in this collection of Monk compositions. While it may be helpful to know that they exist, they are simply colors in Holman's highly individual palette, not keys to the nature of his work.

"It's great to do things like that because jazz bands were locked into that four-part harmony for so many decades that to get away from it completely is freedom. Some of the guys in the band are still trying to figure out how these things fit into the harmonic scheme. Well, a lot of times, there isn't any harmonic scheme."

Having understood and accepted that harmony can be background but not a strict guide, in "Friday the 13th" trumpeter Ron Stout divorces himself from the idea of harmonic changes and improvises on the same four bars repeatedly and brilliantly. His solo is so unified that the listener untutored in harmony is likely to simply think of it as one hell of a trumpet chorus, which it is. Bill Perkins, who at the age of 72 keeps renew­ing himself, demonstrates the same spirit and boldness in this piece and, for that matter, in his alto and soprano saxophone solos throughout the album.

As another example of his expanded thinking, Holman offers the introduction to "Brilliant Corners," which is far removed from most definitions of the big band sound. He mentions allowing more freedom in the development of melodic lines so that they don't always conform to the underlying harmony. He talks about getting away from the stereotype of the riff-style big band shout chorus, although he says, "I did it in 'Thelonious.' It was the only way I could go with that one."

Other times, as in "Bye Ya," he alludes to the tradition, with the saxes riffing and the brass shout­ing on top. "That's really going back," he says. It's not that serious. It's kind of humorous. It says, 'let's get down and swing.'" Like the Charles Ives lick in the ensemble of "Brilliant Corners," it is another manifestation of Holman's craftsmanship and his humor.

"It's kind of corny, in a way, but Ives did it and I've always wanted to work it in. With my band full of introverts," says Holman, who himself is hardly Type A, "I really had to work on them to give it a little brio."

Following a live performance of many of the Monk charts in the spring of 1997 at the Moonlight Tango, a Los Angeles club, Holman allowed that he was pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic audience reception. Perhaps American listeners are changing their thinking.

The change in his own thinking was stimulated in the late 1970s when Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombonist and fellow arranger-composer, commissioned Holman to write an album. Brookmeyer planted the seed of freedom when Holman asked him what he wanted.

"What Brookmeyer said boiled down to, 'use your imagination,'" Holman remembers. "That sounds simple, but the more I thought about it, I realized that it meant not being locked in to the traditional big band format."

Holman had hardly been a captive of conventional musical thought. From his first works for Stan Kenton, he had the gift of investing complex music with the appearance of simplicity. His arrangements were accessible to lay ears, yet satisfying to musicians. His charts were rich in harmonic sophistication, rhythmic challenges and interwoven lines, but they could be heard as swinging big band performances, even as music for dancing. He had that dual ability in common with Eddie Sauter, Gil Evans, Thad Jones, Gerry Mulligan and very few other modern arrangers. All of them, it must be said, were inspired by Duke Ellington. …

Monk should have stayed around for this one.”

© -Doug Ramsey. Used with permission, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“This is the first album since 1997 by The Bill Holman Band. Why there was so long an interregnum between recordings by an essential cultural institution requires a discussion of conditions in the music industry and the society at large. You will not find that discussion here. Let us simply shout hooray, and praise impresario Ken Poston for including the band in one of his periodic jazz events, and Graham Carter of Jazzed Media for capturing the performance. The occasion was "Stratospheric," a four-day tribute to Maynard Ferguson, who for more than half a century has used his trumpet to explore even beyond the stratosphere.

Ferguson was present and his spirit in the air through all the festivities of the long weekend. His connections with Holman s concert were the lineage they share as alumni of the Stan Kenton Orchestra and the many arrangements Holman wrote for Ferguson's Los Angeles band in 1956 and '57. Holman played tenor saxophone for Kenton in the band's glory days of the early 1950s when Ferguson was in the brass section. Beginning to apply what he had learned when he studied counterpoint at Westlake College in Los Angeles, Holman offered Kenton his "Invention for Guitar and Trumpet." The 1952 recording of "Invention" featured Sal Salvador and Ferguson. Kenton was pleased, and the piece became the first of dozens that Willis Leonard Holman contributed to the Kenton book over nearly three decades until shortly before the band leader died in 1979. Among those arrangements were several that are studied to this day for their craftsmanship and ingenuity. Perhaps foremost among them is his treatment of "Stompin' at the Savoy," a masterpiece of contrapuntal intricacy so cunningly made that to the casual ear it seems straightforward. Holman s gift for complexity wrapped in accessible, swinging, packages became his stock in trade.

Once he got underway as a writer, Willis quickly developed to a degree that put him on a level with Gerry Mulligan, who had been an inspiration to him, and with other master arrangers of his generation — Bob Brookmeyer, Thad Jones, Al Cohn, Johnny Mandel, Manny Albam. He wrote not only for Kenton, but also for Charlie Barnet, Woody Herman, Count Basie, Mulligan's Concert Jazz Band, Maynard Ferguson, Terry Gibbs, the Tonight Show Orchestra, Louie Bellson, Shelly Manne and Buddy Rich. Singers yearn to have him arrange for them. Among the lucky ones have been Peggy Lee, Carmen McRae, Sarah Vaughan, Natalie Cole and Delia Reese.

Typical of how a slightly older generation of arrangers regards Holman is something the late Ralph Burns told me about Willis's writing: "It's pure jazz, but he writes everything very classically. It's linear and simple and clear." From one younger arranger, Bill Kirchner: "His linear concepts are among the most important innovations ever used in a jazz orchestra," and another, Don Sebesky: "I hear nothing, past or present, that comes close to (his writing) because he combines the objective and subjective parts of music into a seamless whole." From a contemporary, Bob Brookmeyer: "Of all the other peoples' music I've played in my life, I'd rather play Bill Holman s. He makes it such a delight. It's so naturally well crafted that it speaks when you play it."

Ken Poston s extravaganzas attract enthusiasts from several continents. A few are wallowers in nostalgia, but most are discerning listeners who keep up with musical developments and are acutely attuned to the content of what they're hearing. Being of sound mind and aware of his patrons' preferences, Poston frequently features Holman. The "Stratospheric" Holman recital was doubly auspicious because Willis brought from his storehouse several new pieces for the band that he has led since 1975. He rehearses every Thursday morning at the American Federation of Musicians Local 47 union hall in Hollywood. It is one big band rehearsal for which it is never difficult to get enough players. The subs stand in line, hoping to get in on the challenge and fun of playing Willis's charts.

Some of the members of the 2004 edition of the band are new since Holman's last recording, but the musicianship and camaraderie are on the same high plane. In the course of the concert recording, Willis introduces the band and identifies the soloists. To shanghai the nearest applicable cliché, the music speaks for itself, but permit me to point out a couple of delights if only because it is fun to attempt to peg some of Holman's gamesmanship.

In "Woodrow," leading up to Christian Jacob's piano solo, Willis has the trumpets and the trombones play catch with a triplet figure. The reeds expand on the figure in ascent and Jacob echoes it as he begins his solo. Midway through Ray Herrmann's tenor sax solo, triplet figures emerge again, this time tossed back and forth between the trumpets and the reeds, but only momentarily. The triplets make a final appearance in the ascending lines the sections play to end the piece. It is one of the threads that holds the arrangement together. Another, recalling the trombone section's opening notes, is Bob Efford s baritone sax combination of punchy off-beat quarter notes, and long tones. The baritone provides underscoring as the brass and reeds intermingle phrases that add up to the sort of thing Brookmeyer was talking about when he said that Holman's arrangements speak. This is musical conversation of the highest order.

 "Donna Lee" gets a straight exposition of the famous melody. Well, a relatively straight reading; during the unfolding of the line, don't miss the slight dissonances, and the subtle jabs by the horns. As Bob Enevoldsen begins the second chorus of his valve trombone solo, a Holman countermelody slides beneath him. Keep it in mind. You'll meet parts of it again in a variation in the band passage that comes next. Holman reels out one of his written choruses that has swing so natural, ideas so flowing and logical, that it sounds like a transcription of a solo by some undiscovered master improviser. Eight bars into the next chorus, the band soli transmutes into a passage with strands of melody from groups of horns interwoven so intricately that the term counterpoint seems inadequate to describe what happens. Then, with his gift for dynamics, Holman continues the intensity while shading down the volume
and suspending all but Jacob's piano, making the beginning of Doug Webb's superb tenor solo seem a whispered promise that a mystery is about to be revealed. After Webb, comes the closest thing in the arrangement to a traditional big band shout chorus, then twenty decidedly nontraditional bars of collective noodling that might have been inspired by Alan Hovahness, Gyorgy Ligeti or one of the other Twentieth Century composers Holman reveres. A final chorus of melody leads to an ending that elicits shouts of surprise from the audience and, no doubt, a grin from Holman.

A fellow saxophonist once asked Lester Young for advice about mouthpieces. Young told him, "I can tell you about my mouthpiece in my mouth. I can't tell you about your mouthpiece in your mouth." I have told you a little about how my brain receives some of Holman's work through my ears. One of the gratifying things about serious music of this quality is that it will reward different listeners differently. Because Bill Holman's music has layers of complexity and depth, and an unlimited shelf life, it will further reward each of us each time we hear it.”

Doug Ramsey’s latest book is Take Five: The Public and Private Lived of Paul Desmond Parkside,

Bill may be displeased with our selection for the audio track on the following video tribute to him because it uses an arrangement that he wrote for a 1958 recording session. His writing has obviously evolved considerably over the past 50+ years.

However, for those of us who first heard his charts in this style, he usually includes this version of The Man I Love in concert performances by his current band for those of us who have made the trip with him to this point; nostalgia notwithstanding.

The solos are by Jack Sheldon [tp], Richie Kamuca [ts], Vic Feldman [p], and Carl Fontana [tb].