Monday, November 9, 2015

Bill and Thelonious: Holman on Monk [From the Archives]

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

"’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."
- Bob Brookmeyer, valve trombonist, composer-arranger, band leader

The following quotation is excerpted from a recent re-reading of Gary Giddins’ Weather Bird: Jazz at The Dawn of Its Second Century, a new paperback version of which made its way into the editorial offices of JazzProfiles as a holiday gift.

“A Holman arrangement is distinguished by several hallmarks, chief among them his ability to keep several balls in the air at the same time. Something is always happening. It is a cliche to say that a bandleader makes a small group sound like a big band or a big band sound like a combo. Holman makes a big band sound enormous—given the luxury of 16 musicians, he seems to imply, "use them, all of them, all the time."

Another hallmark is his distinctive use of counterpoint, which he never launches in a Bach-like fantasy, one melody bouncing off another, but in a kind of unison responsiveness, as though the melody under discussion suggested one or two related melodies that fit when played together. Why settle for a single tune when you have enough musicians to play several? Another hallmark is that the result is never cluttered and the secondary melodies often have a linear integrity to match the originals.

A typical Holman moment is an epiphany of sorts, as if contemplation of the melody at hand spurred an unexpected juxtaposition, idea, or joke. Brilliant Corners bubbles over with them. Indeed, Monk's title isn't a bad description of Holman's method. He keeps the big, colorful balls floating in front of your eyes, but you don't want to miss the action at the edges. …”
- Garry Giddins

I remember asking Bill Holman about the use of counterpoint in his arrangements and he replied: “‘Counterpoint’ is a term we heard a lot back in the heyday of West Coast Jazz in the 1950s, but it is not accurate for describing what I use in my arrangements, a least not technically. Strictly-speaking their countermelodies. That’s a better description.”

A little later he explained that he was looking for a way, a key or a method to approach arranging and he found it when, as a member of the saxophone section of Stan Kenton’s Orchestra, he got to play on some of the very few arrangements that Gerry Mulligan wrote for the band.

“Stan always claimed that Gerry stuff was too light for what he had in mind for the band. But with Stan, I always thought that it was a matter of timing because the charts I wrote for him that he featured a couple of years later on the Contemporary Concepts album relied a lot on what I learned from listening to Gerry’s use of countermelodies.”

The following comments about Bill Holman’s composing and arranging skills are  excerpted from Doug Ramsey’s insert notes to the JVC CD The Bill Holman Band: A View From The Side. Doug allowed their usage in an earlier blog feature on Bill Holman which you can locate by going here.

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."

Bill Holman's big band arrangement of Monk and Denzil Best's composition "Bemsha Swing" with solos by Christian Jacob, piano, Ron Stout, trumpet, Bob Leatherbarrow, drums and Bill Perkins, alto saxophone.Bill's tribute to Thelonious Monk’s music was released in February, 1997 as Brilliant Corners [JVC 9018-2] and it forms the soundtrack to the following video tribute to Bill, a man whom I have referred to as a Living National Treasure.

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