Thursday, March 15, 2007

The Bill Holman Band: Live

Jazzed Media
By Ric Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 3.15.07
Buy CD: Live

Bill Holman and I were born within three months of each other, so he's had a lot to do with my love for jazz. 

Holman was born and schooled in California, took up the clarinet and tenor sax in high school, and was leading his own band while still a teenager. After serving in the U.S. Navy, where he studied engineering, he decided that he really wanted to write music for the big jazz bands that prevailed in the 1940s. 

He studied at the Westlake College of Music in Los Angeles, and was a key contributor to the West Coast Jazz movement during the '50s, playing with bands led by Ike Carpenter, Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne, and writing arrangements for Charlie Barnet. Holman began his long association with Stan Kenton in 1952 and became his chief arranger, writing most of the band's library. 

Over the next 25 years, Holman played with or wrote arrangements for almost every big band in existence, including Doc Severinsen's Tonight Show Orchestra. In his spare time, Holman wrote for vocalists such as Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, Sarah Vaughn, June Christy and Anita O'Day. 

He did the arranging for Natalie Cole's Grammy winning "Unforgettable" album, and received one of his Grammy Awards for his arrangement of "Take The 'A' Train" for Doc Severinsen's. 

The point: Even if you didn't know it, if you like jazz, you've been exposed to Holman most of your life. Thank goodness he has made some great recordings over the years: Great Big Band in the 1960s, The Bill Holman Band in the late '80s, A View From The Side and Brilliant Corners during the '90s ... and — the subject at hand —this release in 2005. 

Whatever Homan does, concerts or recording sessions, he has his pick of musicians. They stand in line just for a chance to play his arrangements, which create a symbiosis between baroque textures and modern jazz harmonics. 

Holman wrote all the arrangements on this CD. "Woodrow," done in memory of Woody Herman, works his "Blue Fame" theme song into a swinging melody. "A Day In The Life," another swinger, is a perfect example of how Holman combines styles. 

"Bary Me Not" salutes longtime associate Gerry Mulligan, while "Zoot 'n' Al" is in memory of Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, two of the "four brothers" who played with Herman when Holman also was a member. 

The album's most interesting chart is "Donna Lee," one of the bop lines played by Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, who always did it at a blazing tempo. Holman's arrangement slows it down a bit, which permits the listener to realize just how complex and swinging this composition was. 

The remaining tracks, all originals by Holman, further reinforce his genius. 

Not to be missed.

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