Dave Holland, in Bass Player

I recently spoke with master jazz bassist Dave Holland, for a piece published in Bass Player magazine. We talked about his playing history, Pathways, the new CD from his Octet, and his newly renovated and relaunched web site, among other topics.

The full “director’s cut” of the text is below, or click here to go directly to the Q&A feature online.


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.

With his own groups, he’s performed his rangy and complex but accessible compositions all over the world. The Dave Holland Octet, the latest canvas for Holland’s tunes, is heard to great effect on the recently released Pathways, and the redesigned daveholland.com is one of the most comprehensive and user-friendly musician’s sites on the web, a treasure trove of audio, video and downloadable charts.

In the offing are 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 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 you a huge variety of sounds to work with. You can do anything from small group to simulating big band with it. It gives you a tremendous mount of flexibility in the kind of orchestration you can do. The model for that was Ellington’s small group. I always liked their tonal range.

Have you been surprised by any of the colors or textures that you’ve achieved with the octet?

What you don’t know is how it’s going to be interpreted. The inflection that the musicians bring to it, the way it’s interpreted, 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 another conversation that goes on in the music along with all the other relationships that are happening. We maintain that 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 and still a bass guitarist. I bought a couple of records that Ray had done with Oscar Peterson. I also saw a couple of records with a bass player on the front, Leroy Vinnegar – Leroy Walks and Leroy Walks agaian. I loved the sound, the feel, the beautiful tone, the interaction and the expressiveness. Within  a week or two I got myself  a nice shiny plywood bass nd that’s how I began the journey. Next thing I got was a 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 certain point where I was working on 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’s (Gomez) technique helped me think about other ways of using my right hand. There was a period where I devoted  a lot of time to that.

Do you have a regular practice routine?

Scales always figure into my practice — all the major and minor scales and other kinds of scales. Arpeggios. And then pizzicato techniques, some permutations of string crossing. My practice is usually divided into things dealing with much more technical things and the rest of it is to do with conceptual things.

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]; Herbie Hancock, River: The Joni Letters [Verve, 2007); Dave Holland Quintet, Critical Mass [Dare2 Records, 2006]


French flatback bass, 3/4, circa 1860, 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 Retrospect tube DI; Czech-Ease Acoustic Road Bass, with Underwood pickup and David Gage Realist pickup, both sent through Clark DI’s. Thomastik-Infeld Spirocore Strings, orchestra gauge.

Gallien Krueger MB2 500 head with GK 410RBH & 112 MBX cabs

French- and German-style bows, variously made by Freschner and Dorfler.

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