24 February 2010

Dave Holland: A Latter Day Art Blakey

Of the generation of musicians who came of age during the development of bebop, Art Blakey is remembered as the great teacher of subsequent generations of jazz musicians. His band, The Jazz Messengers, are frequently referred to as a university of jazz in the historical literature. And his place in this slightly mythologized narrative is secure. His former sidemen, which includes Lee Morgan, Wayne Shorter, Donald Harrison, and Terence Blanchard, all credit Blakey to their developments as musicians. Blakey is the classic evangelist, as the tall tale goes:
Art was driving to an out-of-town job and passed through a village where traffic was completely tied up because of a funeral procession. Since he couldn't get past the cemetery until the service was over, he got out and listened to the eulogy. The minister spoke at length about the virtues of the deceased, and then asked if anyone had anything else to add. After a silence during which nobody spoke up, Art said, "If nobody has anything to say about the deceased, I'd like to say a few words about jazz!"1
Such was Blakey, always educating. And he is not the only musician who should be championed for his role as a bandstand professor. Dave Holland has served as a kind of Dean of Postbop for the past 30 years. His working bands, while they lack the brand name of Blakey's Messengers, have nonetheless served as a revolving door of talent which Holland nurtures. Like Blakey, Holland has an impressive record of graduates: Chris Potter, Steve Coleman, Eric Harland, and Kenny Wheeler, to name but a few.

But the analogy runs deeper than that. It is one thing to hire a bunch of up-and-coming sidemen, but quite another to let them develop as individuals while keeping your own stamp on the band at the same time. Holland and Blakey were both members of their respective rhythm sections; they could not be as overtly dominant as a front line player. Indeed, both men also recorded many original compositions written by their sidemen, and are remembered by their sidemen for their encouragement in contributing tunes to the book. But at the same time, the recorded outputs of Blakey and Holland each bear a distinctive sound. You know whose band is on the stand anytime either plays. It takes a special kind of musical leader to develop such a recognizable style with a continually changing cast of musicians passing through their bands.

Holland's recordings always seem to be well-received, but he has not quite reached the historical status of Blakey. Of course Blakey had the benefit of one of his sidemen acquiring an incredibly powerful position for mythmaking (ahem), but that's not territory I wish to cover here. Blakey also played during a time when stylistic categories within jazz were less complicated (it's much easier to approach a definition of hard bop than it is for postbop). However, if we can call the Jazz Messengers Hard Bop Academy, I think it's about time we start calling Holland's quintet the School for Postbop Studies.

Bonus material after the jump.
Blakey, the hard bop progenitor:

Holland, sage of postbop:

Extra Credit: Follow @TheDaveHolland on Twitter and check out his new website.

1Quoted in Jazz Anecdotes, ed. Bill Crow, Oxford University Press (1990), 328.

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