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A bass odyssey: the stellar career of British jazz man Dave Holland

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Tuesday November 07, 2017

From Financial Times

A bass odyssey: the stellar career of British jazz man Dave Holland
By: Mike Hobart

When the bass player Dave Holland was given two days’ notice to get himself over from London to New York to join Miles Davis’s band, he had never played alongside or indeed even spoken to the great trumpeter. And by the time the then 21-year-old was standing on stage in Harlem, that hadn’t changed.

Some years later, Holland asked Herbie Hancock, the pianist at that gig in 1968, how he thought he had coped. “At least you didn’t faint,” was the reply.

Holland is now one of the few British jazz musicians with an international presence. A Grammy-winning band-leader, he runs his own trio alongside his work with jazz supergroup Aziza, and has recently added a third strand to his live commitments. This is his collaboration with the all-star Indian/US band Crosscurrents, which includes the Indian tabla master Zakir Hussain and American saxophonist Chris Potter. The band is headlining the 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival this month.

Recording keeps him busy too. ECM has just released Tunisian oud player Anouar Brahem’s album Blue Maqams, on which Holland performs along with drummer Jack DeJohnette and pianist Django Bates. He also continues to run his Dare 2 record label from his upstate New York home: he never really moved back to the UK after that first helter-skelter trip to New York.

But his ties to British jazz remain strong. When I meet him at the Vortex Jazz Club in east London, he has just completed a series of events at the Kings Place concert hall organised by the National Youth Jazz Collective, of which he is president. Soon after, he is due to appear at last September’s Ambleside Festival in a tribute to the late British pianist John Taylor, a close friend.

The turning point in Holland’s career was nailing the gig with Davis, at Count Basie’s club. The summons to New York was to look him over as a replacement for Ron Carter, one of the all-time great bass players. What Holland didn’t know was that Carter’s studio commitments had forced Davis to find so many stand-ins that the rest of the band simply ignored their contributions on stage.

“The club’s filling up, and I still haven’t spoken to anybody,” recalls Holland. “Miles is the last to arrive. He gets on the stand, and we’re off. I didn’t know what tunes we were playing or anything . . . it was sink or swim. I was swimming like mad.”

Holland stayed with Davis for two years. As well as the working band, he played on a dozen Davis albums, including the pivotal Bitches Brew.

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