By Dave Pehling
SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — One of the most important musicians to emerge from the British jazz scene during the 1960s, legendary bassist Dave Holland comes to the SFJAZZ Center for four nights of music starting Thursday.
A precocious child who gravitated towards music and was playing ukulele by the age of four, as a teen Holland became enamored with jazz and stand-up bass, trading in his bass guitar for an acoustic bass so he could pursue his new obsession. He would move to London, studying first with classical bassist James Merrett before enrolling at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
Holland mixed his academic studies with onstage training at the renowned Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, providing support for such notable touring musicians as saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster and Joe Henderson. In 1968, he stepped onto the global stage at the tender age of 22 when he replaced Ron Carter in the Miles Davis’ famed “second great quintet” that included pianist Herbie Hancock (who was soon replaced by Chick Corea), drummer Tony Williams, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
Along with guitar phenomenon and fellow Brit John McLaughlin — who Holland had played with extensively in London — the bassist would make important contributions to the trumpet player’s pioneering excursions into electric jazz. In addition to playing on such landmark albums as In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew, and Live Evil, Holland held down the bottom end in Davis’ live group for two years until his departure in 1970.
Though he often wielded a plugged-in Fender bass guitar during the later stretch of his time with Miles, Holland has spent most of the nearly five decades since playing acoustic stand-up. Whether working with luminaries like Stan Getz and Davis alumnus Chick Corea or pushing the boundaries of jazz alongside avant-garde saxophone mavericks Anthony Braxton and Sam Rivers, Holland established himself as brilliant composer and one of the modern masters of his instrument.
Since the 1980s, he has split his time between leading his own acclaimed groups and teaming with an array of jazz giants (Hancock, guitarist Pat Metheny, the late tenor great Joe Henderson) for tours and album projects. Possessing an ear for talent near the same level as his mentor Davis, Holland’s bands have served as a proving ground for a new generation of talent like influential alto player Steve Coleman, drummer Marvin “Smitty” Smith, vibraphonist Steve Nelson and keyboard player Craig Taborn.
Holland has been a regular attraction at the SFJAZZ Center, anchoring a similar four-night run of performances in 2013 that featured the Bay Area debut of his more recent electric band Prism, with Taborn, guitarist Kevin Eubanks (a collaborator from Holland’s blazing late ’80s/early ’90s quartet) and volcanic drummer Eric Harland in addition to more recent appearances as part of tabla master Zakir Hussain’s Crosscurrents septet with celebrated tenor saxophonist Chris Potter as well as violinist/vocalist Ganesh Rajagopalan and guitarist Sanjay Divecha.
For this four-night residency at the SFJAZZ Center’s Miner Auditorium, Holland will start things off Thursday night with a rare solo performance, followed by a set of duets Friday evening with pianist Kenny Barron, who the bassist recorded the acclaimed duo album The Art of the Conversation with for Impulse Records in 2014. On Saturday, Holland takes the stage with a potent trio featuring guitarist Eubanks and powerhouse drummer and member of the SFJAZZ Collective Obed Calvaire for two sets including an early performance exclusively for SFJAZZ members only. The bass maestro closes things out on Sunday with this most recent all-star quartet of Beninese guitar player Lionel Loueke, drummer Harland and saxophone titan Potter that recorded Holland’s most recent studio effort as a leader, Aziza, which he released on his own Dare2 label in 2016.
Dave Holland Residency
Thursday-Sunday, March 22-25, times and prices vary
SFJAZZ Center Miner Auditorium