Bill Holman’s “Just Friends”

I’m on vacation, but my mind seems not to be. It summoned up Bill Holman’s arrangement of “Just Friends” and wondered if Holman has ever recorded it on video. So, my mind and I went to the web. Sure enough, there was Willis with the WDR Big Band in 2000. We get not only his celebrated chart including the solo that he imagined and orchestrated, but also James Moody playing a solo of his own, Jeff Hamilton on drums, John Goldsby on bass and Frank Chastenier on piano. The video includes full band credits.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Email this to someoneShare on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterShare on Reddit


  1. says

    I will never forget the WDR big band, featuring Bill Holman’s exceptional charts and the tenor triumvirate Al Cohn, Sal Nistico & Bill Holman himself, as they performed in Cologne’s Stadtgarten on June 12, 1987. This date was – especially for us Germans – a very special one:

    “Germany, 12th June 1987: While standing in front of the Berlin Wall President Ronald Reagan challenges Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Wall.”

    And what did the three brothers do? They also tore down some walls, but they were the ones I’d built ’round my young ears up to this very day.

    This arrangement of “Just Friends”, though sound-compressed by WDR’s audio engineers, is a milestone in line-writing: It starts as a frozen unison collective improvisation, first only conversing with the splendid piano trio, then slowly building, and building a… well, a tower, no, a “wall of sound”.

    Bill Holman and his “walls of sound” (pun intended!). Master Moody was in a very good … ok, ok, I’m finished.


    And Happy Thanksgiving to you too.

  2. Charlton Price says

    “Jazz is dead” ?? Faugh !!

    And this clip as accessed off You Tube, thanks to Doug, includes other versions of “Just Friends,” with the most kick-ass, triumphant , extended Wynton I’ve ever heard.

    • says

      Not necessarily so, Andreas, it can also be a sign for an improviser, not knowing what he’s playing. One of the most abstract renditions of “Just Friends” is the one with Cecil Taylor, accompanying Kenny & Trane… which doesn’t mean that I’m not kiddin’ … to express it totally negatively :)

      For me, it’s still the Hard Driving Jazz album, not Coltrane Time, as they retitled it later.

  3. Jim Brown says

    What strikes me about this concert, and the one by Lee Konitz’s European Quartet, is the acceptance of their music in the concert halls of the culture that long ago gave us Bach and Beethoven, and the extent to which these contemporary artists loved and have built upon that earlier music.

    I’ve long been convinced that if Bach had lived in the 20th century he would have been a jazz musician. In the late 40s, my colleague and friend Hellmuth Kolbe, was studying music and engineering at a university in Zurich, and wanted to write his dissertation analyzing Bach’s work on that premise. His proposal to do so was denied, and he never completed that diploma. Sent by Armed Forces Radio after the war to record performances at Vienna’s great concert hall, the Musikverien, he was subsequently hired by Columbia Records, he became one of the great recording engneers, with thousands of classical recordings to his credit. On a visit to New York, he recorded one of the sessions that became Ellington Uptown.

    • David says

      Jim, The idea of Bach in the 20th century, trying support a wife and 20 children as a jazz musician, is somewhat disturbing. However, Bach’s music lends itself quite naturally to swing rhythm as the Swingle Singers, and many others, have demonstrated. Even Beethoven could get a bit jazzy at times, as in his Piano Sonate #32, where he incorporates the Charleston rhythm.

      Both Bach and Beethoven were noted improvisors in their time. Carl Czerny wrote of Beethoven that “His improvisation was brilliant and astonishing in the extreme…frequently there was not a single dry eye, while many broke out into loud sobs, for there was a certain magic in his expression, aside from the beauty and originality of his ideas…”

      Ferdinand Ries tells of a time when a visiting virtuoso tried to cut Beethoven: “This roused the indignation of Beethoven…he had to seat himself at the piano to improvise….As he moved toward it, he took up the cello part of Steibelt’s quintet, purposely put it on the piano-rack upside down and and drummed out a theme from its first measure….Beethoven improvised in such a way that Steibelt left the room before he had concluded…and even made it a condition that Beethoven was not to be invited where his own company was desired.”

      • says

        David: Your story sounds like the famous rent party where Willie “The Lion” Smith, Thomas “Fats” Waller & Art Tatum (or some other fellas?) dueled in a piano battle (as I remember have I read this in a German translation of Eddie Condon’s book “We Called It Music”). Anyway, after the party was over, the piano was kaput. Some of its tack hammers were found hanging at some picture frames on the wall.

        I doubt that the three piano kings were ever invited by that renter again 😉

        Well, for me, as a German jazz man who was brought up in this cultural bath, Bach (to a lesser extend), but in any case Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, or Liszt … they were all jazzers, long before that word existed.

        It’s their rebellion against the traditional rules; it’s their resistance against the dictates of the aristocracy; most of them (Bach excluded) were children of the Age of Enlightenment. Improvisation is always democratic, an expression of freedom. That’s why the nazis (and the racists in the US) hate(d) it so much.

        As for Bill Holman’s “Just Friends”: You can hear the band “say” it in music many times during the chart for example between 4:44 and 4:51. Or, as I can hear it some sceconds before, “we are just friends”.

  4. Jeff Sultanof says

    The nice thing about being a composer/arranger is that you use your knowledge/experience/radar to really hear inside the music. Anything that Willis writes makes me laugh and cry. He has never stopped growing and developing, and yet his music is never so ‘out there’ that the traditional big band listener (for want of a better term) feels left out. Musicians love playing his music, and it certainly shows here. The technique never shows. it is pure, incredible music.

    Thank you for sharing this, Doug. There is so much great stuff on YouTube that it would take several hours a day to find it and listen to it. It is great when one thing in particular gets a recommendation. This made my day!