With his 89th birthday a month away, the master composer, arranger and band leader Bill Holman is working as much as he cares to, which seems to be a lot. In recent years, Holman has frequently led bands in the US and Europe in works of his that are universally considered classics. Last weekend, the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master (class of 2010) flew north from
Los Angeles to lead the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra in three concerts of his music. In an article in advance of the concerts, Seattle Times music critic Paul deBarros wrote,
Holman’s collaborations with Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald are heralded by critics and fans alike for their ingenious counter-lines and airy, buoyant sense of swing.
…not to mention those that he has written for his own big band in a series of uniformly brilliant albums. Sunday, the final Holman-SRJO concert was at the Kirkland Performance Center across Lake Washington from Seattle. The house was packed. Holman called a dozen of his compositions and arrangements, including “Kingfish,” and “Stompin’ At The Savoy,” both written for Kenton in the mid-1950s. Below, we see the maestro in the throes of his celebrated minimalist conducting style
Among the soloists, highlights came from trumpeters Thomas Marriott, Jay Thomas and the section’s powerful lead player Andy Omdahl. Playing at length
and discreetly adding slow vibrato, Marriott (pictured above) gave a gorgeous reading of Tadd Dameron’s “If You Could See Now,” the piece enhanced by Holman’s suspended ending. Tenor saxophonist Travis Ranney reflected Lester Young’s legacy filtered through Al Cohn in his solo on “Donna Lee.” Dan Marcus, Scott Brown and Bill Anthony all soloed impressively in the trombone section, which was anchored by the cavernous sound of bass trombonist David Bentley. At times the low notes from Bentley, baritone saxophonist Bill Ramsay and bassist Phil Sparks rumbled the hall.
Co-leader Michael Brockman announced that his partner, drummer Clarence Acox, was recovering from an arm injury and introduced Julian MacDonough, who subbed admirably.
Here is the complete current personnel of a repertory band that has managed to stay together for twenty years, a rare feat:
Saxophones: Michael Brockman, Alex Dugdale, Mark Taylor, Travis Ranney, Bill Ramsey. Trumpets: Andy Omdahl, Mike Mines, Jim Sisko, Jay Thomas, Thomas Marriott; Trombones: Dan Marcus, Scott Brown, Bill Anthony, David Bentley. Piano: Randy Halberstadt. Bass: Phil Sparks. Drums: Julian MacDonough.
Holman concluded the first half of the concert with his arrangement of George and Ira Gershwin’s “The Man I Love” from his 1987 album In A Jazz Orbit. In conversation afterward, he said, “You know, the secret of that arrangement is in the tempo. It has to be exactly right. They nailed it.” To my knowledge, there is no video of the Sunday SRJO performance. There is video of one that Holman conducted with his own band a few years ago in Los Angeles.
They also nailed it.
For a idea of the extent and variety of Holman’s work over the past sixty years or so, go to this page and scroll down.
(All photos copyright Jim Levitt, SRJO)