An Interview with Bill Holman

Thurs. 7/21 at noon: We'll be talking with the maestro via telephone on this day and playing as much of his music as we can squeeze into a 90-minute slot.

Bill Holman is a legend in Los Angeles. The general consensus is that he is the Bela Bartok of big band jazz arranging. That is, his ideas are not hampered by a tepid approach to dissonance and counterpoint and other formulaic stick-within-the-lines rules & regulations. His charts pop with the indispensable and capacious element endemic to the best bebop, that thing that makes bebop BEBOP: joie de vivre -- Joy of life!

If he was a modernist French painter he would be the landscapes of Cezanne. If he was a tree he'd be a palm tree -- his music goes straight up into the sky and explodes in a culmination of beauty and palm fronds. The jazz big band is his instrument and he has wrote charts for Woody Herman, Stan Kenton, Buddy Rich, Peggy Lee, Maynard Ferguson, Count Basie, Zoot Sims, Sarah Vaughan, The Fifth Dimension, and the Westdeutscher Rundfunk of Cologne, Germany, among hundreds of others. His own Bill Holman Big Band is always in rehearsals at monthly gatherings at Local 47 (the union hall) in Hollywood and are presently gearing up for their summer evening gig at Vitello's in the Valley.

Read what the scholars at Amazon.com have to say about Bill Holman's music:

From Aaron I. Strang:
Yet again Holman comes through with a unique set of compositions and arrangements that are fresh, but have his stamp right on them. My three favorites are Donna Lee, Blue Daniel and Press One. I went so far as to order the arrangements from his publisher Sierra Music to study the scores.

Donna Lee has Mr. Holman's classic counterpoint and motifs that seem to flow right from the bebop melody itself. And he makes the melody unique with the subtlest of touches in doubling it at odd intervals off and on. And the ending leaves the listener saying 'Wow, what just happened?!'

In Blue Daniel, Holman's ability to keep the integrity of a song while making it his own shines forth. The counterlines and development are simple and subtle, just like the tune itself. From the rim shot kicking off the immediate statement of the melody, to the straight forward ending (with an added major seven on the last note to add that Holman 'quirk') this tune just flows.

Press One seems to me to capture the humor and joy in Holman's music that I absolutely love. It invokes the mechanical impersonal nature of automated call service from the dialing of the touch tones to the swaying lounge music you hear when you're put on hold. Just a great Holman original.

And regarding the same album as above (Bill Holman Band Live CD) from Robert O. Smith Jr:
Youth is without a doubt wasted on the young. I love this Bill Holman guy. I've been listening to him for many years, like 50, without even knowing who he was. He's the guy behind the best of all big band arrangements. He's like the Duke. Now that I'm getting up there too it's hard to express how fortunate my indebtedness is to such a marvelous and great talent. Hey I've been saving this up so give me a little room to praise the best of the best. No pandering here, I don't even know him but I got his picture on the cd cover and he looks like an old fart like me. Thanks Bill. The album is tight, fit and smart with virtuoso talent. A day in the life.

And, from John Herrmann:
Exciting charts from Bill Holman -- all original, and done with the brilliance of his band, made up of the best jazz/studio musicians in southern California. The charts are near impossible to just read... like many of the big band arrangements by Gil Evans for Miles Davis. Holman and Evans are thousands of miles ahead of any other big band writers.

AND, via Email I asked Bobby Shew what he has to say about Bill Holman (Bobby en route to gig in Prague):
Sorry I'll miss the b'cast but maybe I can hear it someday. Bill's writing is very unique because of his tremendous contrapuntal and melodic skills. Somehow his lines seem Pres-influenced, so linear and not restricted to vertical spellings of chord changes. It's an amazing experience playing those long unison lines! And when the voiced tutti sections hit, the roof explodes off the building! I was fortunate to be able to play so many of his charts, with Buddy Rich, Woody Herman, Terry Gibbs. I also was the music copyist for the Operation Entertainment TV for which he was the chief arranger for Terry's band. I had the opportunity to peruse his scores. Unfortunately, we had to hurry so study time was limited. But, I did learn some great things about his voicings. Have fun with him. He has an incredible Al Cohn-like sense of humor!


Slideshow photo: Bill Holman (iram.wordpress.com)