Dave Holland had Miles Davis and Betty Carter as mentors. Now he'll play the role of mentor for a few days in Youngstown.
By DEBORA SHAULIS
Christian Dillingham says he's not rehearsing for nothing.
He and members of Youngstown State University Jazz Ensemble 1 are practicing songs from performer-composer Dave Holland's most recent Big Band CD for a concert with Holland's quintet Wednesday night in Edward W. Powers Auditorium.
It's what Dillingham has in common with Holland that may keep him off the stage.
Both are bass players. Dillingham will understand if Holland wants to perform his own compositions.
"I'm more interested in hearing him play, anyway," says Dillingham, a music performance major from Brookfield who will graduate this summer.
"He's one of the living legends of jazz music. ... He's someone who's going to be talked about in the future."
Bass, the foundation of jazz groups and the core of Dillingham's and Holland's careers, is also part of YSU history.
Before the late Tony Leonardi founded the jazz studies program in the late 1960s, he played bass with many respected musicians, including an extended tour with Big Band leader Woody Herman.
It's in Leonardi's memory that a pair of concerts -- one by Dave Holland Quintet, the other with YSU students -- will be performed next week.
Holland's arrival here also continues Leonardi's legacy of bringing upper-eschelon musicians to YSU to work with students.
"I enjoy visiting educational institutions and collaborating with students there," Holland said recently from his home in New York's Hudson Valley. A number of individual and group workshops at YSU have been planned.
The youngest participants at the International Association for Jazz Education annual conference last month in Toronto impressed Holland.
"To see some of the teenagers with these sort of bright eyes and absolute passion in their faces -- it was inspiring to me," he said.
Miles Davis' influence
Holland was barely out of his teens when he became a fixture of the London jazz scene in the late 1960s. He played first with musicians who gravitated toward the New Orleans sound, then hung around instrumentalists who were into contemporary jazz.
He was playing in a London club one night in summer 1968 when Miles Davis dropped by, heard him and invited him to join his band. Holland toured with Davis for two years and played on the "In A Silent Way" and "Bitches Brew" records.
Davis had a profound influence on Holland. "I had a chance to watch his process and to admire his wonderful focus as a player," he recalled. "Also, how to put a band together. He was thinking about a band sound and how to encourage individuality."
Holland's other mentor is vocalist Betty Carter, who he calls a "wonderful musician" who is "very helpful, very caring about the musical community."
Unlike some of his counterparts at the Toronto conference, Holland believes there are plenty of players who are forging new paths in jazz, not merely taking the road already traveled.
"Unfortunately, the big range of creativity and talent that's in the musical community isn't always recorded and documented," he said. "I hear so much good energy and imagination, so much love for this art form."
Holland will emphasize creativity and individuality to the YSU students. "It's just a matter of encouraging it in young people. The past needs to be respected and learned from, but it's only relevant if it produces music for today."
Dillingham will be listening intently.
"For a bass player ... I mean, he completely revolutionized jazz bass playing," Dillingham said, also citing Holland's influence as a composer. "When I heard he was coming here, it was almost hard to believe."
Dillingham is a member of YSU's Jazz Ensemble I, Chamber Orchestra, Symphony Orchestra and Jazz Combo. He also leads Christian Dillingham and the Modern Jazz Quintet, which will play at the "Mad About the Arts" benefit for WYSU-FM Radio and McDonough Museum of Art on Feb. 28.
Dillingham continues to rehearse Holland's songs because "It's good to get the experience," he said. Even though he's applying to graduate schools to study orchestral music, he intends "to play just as much jazz as any other music."
That's as it should be to Holland.
"I see it as one big, related subject, music, with sub categories," Holland said. Having performed with Arabic, African and other musicians of the world, he's discovered that "we learn with a different process, but the fundamentals of it are shared. So much of music is a shared language with just different syntaxes."