BORN IN ENGLAND BUT BECKONED to the U.S. by Miles Davis in the late ’60s, Dave Holland has long been a prime mover in high-end jazz, beginning with his fusion explorations on the trumpeter’s classic In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew albums and continuing through work with a long list of jazz greats, including Thelonious Monk, Stan Getz, Kenny Wheeler, and Herbie Hancock. The Dave Holland Octet, the latest canvas for Holland’s own tunes, is heard to great effect on the new album Pathways. Holland’s redesigned website, daveholland.com, is a treasure trove of audio, video, and downloadable charts, and is one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly musician sites on the web. In the offing is more work with Jason Moran, Chris Potter, and Eric Harland in the group Overtone, a recording with flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela, and birthday-celebration concerts honoring Herbie Hancock and drummer Roy Haynes.
What appeals to you about the Octet’s instrumentation?
The five-horn front line—three saxes and two brass—gives tremendous flexibility in orchestration. The model for that was Ellington’s small group. I always liked their tonal range. You can do anything from small group to simulating big band. The inflection that the musicians bring to it, and the personal nuances that each player brings are very important to me. It’s what personalizes the music and makes it unique for that group of people.
What kind of rhythmic connection have you developed with your drummer, Nate Smith?
I like to think of the bass-and-drums relationship as a conversation that goes on almost independent of the other musical dialogue around us. We maintain our own conversation and mold it around what we’re hearing.
Who turned you on to the double bass?
I saw Ray Brown’s name on the top of the polls when I was about 15 years old and still a bass guitarist. I bought a couple records Ray had done with Oscar Peterson, and a couple other records with a bass player on the front—Leroy Vinnegar’s Leroy Walks and Leroy Walks again. I loved the sound, feel, beautiful tone, interaction, and the expressiveness in it. Within a week or two I got myself a nice shiny plywood bass and began the journey. The next thing I got was the Charles Mingus record Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus, which is a whole other thing. At the beginning I really was learning traditional music changes and Tin Pan Alley songbooks. I just went step by step.
Along the way, have you made any dramatic revisions to your technique?
There was a point where I was developing a different type of pizzicato technique, going from using one or two fingers in a sideway approach to bringing my hand around where it was more perpendicular to the board. Eddie Gomez’s technique helped me think about other ways of using my right hand.
Do you have a regular practice routine?
Scales always figure into my practice, along with arpeggios, pizzicato techniques, and permutations of string crossing. My practice is usually split between technical exercises and conceptual ideas.
HEAR HIM ON
Dave Holland Octet, Pathways [Dare2 Records, 2010]; The Monterey Quartet, Live at the 2007 Monterey Festival [Concord, 2009]; Dave Holland Sextet, Pass It On [Dare2 Records, 2008]
Basses circa 1860 3-size French flatback bass (purchased from an antique shop in Toulouse, France in the mid 1990s) with AKG 406c condenser mic mounted on the inside of the tailpiece, and Underwood pickup sent through a Retrospec tube DI; Czech-Ease Acoustic Road Bass with Underwood pickup and David Gage Realist pickup, both sent through Clark DIs
Strings Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore strings, orchestra gauge
Bows French- and German-style bows, variously made by Freschner and Dorfler
Rig Gallien-Krueger MB2 500 head with GK 410RBH & 112 MBX cabs