dave holland

ArtsWatch Year in Music 2017

ArtsWatch chronicles a year that showcased women's music, natural inspirations, and institutional evolution

Oregon music is surging, and this year, Oregon ArtsWatch has been your personal surfboard to keep you on top of the tide instead of inundated by it. And to bring you views of the powerful creative forces beneath the waves. This roundup is in no way a comprehensive or even representative sample of the dozens and dozens of music-related previews, reviews, features, interviews, profiles, and more we presented in 2017. Instead, we’ve chosen mostly stories whose value transcends a particular concert, leaned toward Oregon rather than national artists (who can get plenty of press elsewhere), favored music by today’s American composers instead of long-dead Europeans, and tried to represent a variety of voices and approaches. We hope this roundup gives a valuable snapshot of an eventful, fruitful moment in Oregon’s musical culture.

Homegrown Sounds

Although we also write about jazz and other improvised music and other hard-to-classify sounds, ArtsWatch’s primary musical focus has always been contemporary “classical” (a term we’d love to replace with something more accurate) composition by Oregon composers, and this year presented a richer tapestry than ever. As always, Cascadia Composers led the way in presenting new Oregon music in the classical tradition, but others including FearNoMusic, Third Angle New Music, the University of Oregon and even new entities like Burn After Listening also shared homegrown sounds. ArtsWatch readers learned about those shows and composers from accomplished veterans like Kenji Bunch to emerging voices such as Justin Ralls.

Wright, Brugh, Clifford, Safar, and ?? play with toys at Cascadia Composers’ Cuba concert.

Cascadia Composers and Crazy Jane fall concerts: Spanning the spectrum
Quartet of concerts reveals rich diversity in contemporary Oregon classical — or is that ‘classical’ ? — Music. JANUARY 20 MATTHEW ANDREWS.

Kenji Bunch: Seeing the Elephant
After returning to home ground, the Portland composer’s career blossoms with commissions from the Oregon Symphony and Eugene Ballet. MARCH 7 BRETT CAMPBELL.

45th Parallel preview: from conflict to collaboration
ArtsWatch review provokes contention, then cooperation as ensemble invites writer to co-curate a concert featuring music by young Oregon composers. MARCH 29  BRETT CAMPBELL. Also read Maria Choban’s review: 45th Parallel review: Horror show .

Burn After Listening: Stacy Phillips, Lisa Ann Marsh, Jennifer Wright.

‘Fire and Ice’ preview: accessible adventure
New Portland composers’ collective’s debut performance includes aerial dance, sculpture, poetry, icy instruments — and a close connection to audiences. APRIL 27 BRETT CAMPBELL


ArtsWatch Weekly: Berlin stories

Andrea Stolowitz's "Berlin Diaries," world premiere at the ballet, new on stage, Brett Campbell's music picks, lots of links

The corner of culture, art, and politics is a busy intersection these days, when suddenly each seems to have something significant to say about the others, and so Andrea Stolowitz’s new play Berlin Diary, although it deals with events three-quarters of a century ago, also seems very much of the current moment.

Stolowitz, the Portland playwright and Oregon Book Award winner, spent a year in Berlin on a Fulbright scholarship retracing the steps of her “lost” Jewish family, those stuck in the archives after her German Jewish great grandfather escaped to New York City in the late 1930s. Shortly after, he began to keep a journal to pass along to his descendants, and it’s that family book that prompted Stolowitz’s sojourn in Berlin and the construction of this play.

Playwright Andrea Stolowitz, creator of “Berlin Diary.”

The past comes forward in recurring waves, touching futures as they unfold. “It’s not easy to get a Berlin audience to laugh at jokes about the Holocaust,” Lily Kelting of NPR Berlin wrote when Berlin Diary premiered there last October. “But American playwright Andrea Stolowitz manages to do just that in her latest premiere at the English Theater Berlin.” Kelting continues: “She says that writing the play has helped her realize that the guilt of surviving the Holocaust was a secret that ultimately tore her family in the States apart — even generations later.”


Dave Holland Trio preview: All about the bass

Jazz bassist and bandleader’s starry career has a Portland connection


Even before he steps onstage for his Friday concert in Portland, Dave Holland has made a sizable contribution to Oregon jazz. The world renowned jazz bassist owns the upright bass instrument that belonged to the  late “The Walker” Leroy Vinnegar. “Rather, I’m its custodian,” Holland said this spring from his home in New York’s Hudson Valley. Holland restored the water-damaged instrument, but the bass, he says, “will always be Leroy’s.”

Dave Holland’s Trio adds guest Chris Potter.

His purchase helped establish the Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute within Portland State University’s Department of Music in 2002, three years after Vinnegar, who taught at PSU, died in Portland. Its mission is to “let knowledge serve the city” through programs and partnerships in jazz education and jazz history, public outreach, and service to the artistic community. It’s kind of repayment of an artistic debt, because it was Vinnegar’s music that helped inspire Holland to pick up the bass in the first place — a decision that led him to jazz stardom.

PDXJazz brings Holland back to Portland at 8 p.m. Friday, April 7, in Revolution Hall, 1300 S.E. Stark St., with drummer Eric Harland, saxophonist Chris Potter, and guitarist Kevin Eubanks. “The four of us have played together quite a lot. I can’t tell you what we’ll be playing,” Holland said, though no doubt they’ll perform cuts from Aziza and Prism, recent CDs. “It will be a surprise to me.”

Dave Holland performs Friday at Revolution Hall.

Holland’s Vinnegar link and love reach back into the late 1950s and early ‘60s. As a teenager growing up in Wolverhampton in England’s Midlands, he haunted record stores for bassist Ray Brown’s albums and came across Vinnegar’s Leroy Walks and Leroy Walks Again!

After hearing Vinnegar and Brown, he put down his guitar and took up the bass. He argues that bass players get plenty of love: More music listeners are fond of the bass than groan at its solos, he says. “A lot of people love the bass, its sounds. Maybe it’s less featured than other instruments, not upfront all the time, but it’s so essential. Everyone feels it if it’s not there. Everyone loves a good bass line, a good riff, a good groove.”

Holland grew up in a working-class family with his grandfather, uncle, mother and grandmother (his father left when he was a baby). He played ukulele and guitar as a kid and was constantly composing, practicing, thinking about music. He decided with a minimum of angst to drop out of school at 15, which he said gave him “a burst of intensity to be a musician.” In his late teens when he moved to London, he studied with London Philharmonic’s bassist James Merrett, who encouraged Holland to enter London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, from where he graduated and still occasionally teaches.

Holland with Miles Davis.

Holland has been playing bass for 55 years, and at 70, looks as spry as he did when he wore a dashiki in Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew-era band during the late ‘60s, if his hair and beard are shorter and grayer than in those heady days. Davis discovered Holland when he walked in to London’s Ronnie Scott Jazz Club to hear pianist Bill Evans’s trio (with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Eddie Gomez). The already legendary trumpeter heard Holland the same night, though not with Evans. As Holland says, “Then Miles offered me an opportunity to play with him. … The universe sent me this amazing gift. I played three weeks at the Count Basie. He never said I had the gig, and he never said I didn’t.”

If Miles helped boost Holland’s early career, Holland has continued to grow and produce good music. He’s a newly anointed National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master (joining 144 recipients since the honor began in 1965) and a sought-after and much recorded musician. Holland has recorded over 100 albums, led 30 bands, and won multiple Grammy awards. Name any major jazz musician in the past half-century, and he’s likely played with them:  Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, Ben Webster, Betty Carter, Joe Henderson, Anthony Braxton, Gary Burton, Sam Rivers, Roy Orbison, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Barron, Oscar Peterson, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell. The list goes on and on.

Holland still speaks with a British accent though he moved to the United States when he was 21. Periodically, he crosses the pond to teach and play. He likes to cross-pollinate with younger musicians, and teaches at London’s Royal Academy of Music, Boston’s Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music.

“We learn from each other in this community,” Holland says. “I’ll hear something that will show me something. What goes around comes around. There is never a shortage of fired-up young musicians moving the music forward.”

Music keeps you young, the late and fellow English-born musician Marian McPartland of National Public Radio’s Piano Jazz program said, and Holland is a preeminent example. In robust health (he had a bout with heart trouble when he was 36 but has thoroughly recovered), he maintains constant receptiveness to new sounds and styles, and a steady work ethic. “I never minded practicing,” he declares. “Never.” Holland continues to be inspired by Spanish cellist Pablo Casals’ words about longevity in the music world. “He said ‘I keep thinking I can get a little better.’”

Not only does Holland play with jazz virtuosos and record on his own label, Dare2, he stretches into other musical realms: flamenco, classical, and recently, he has been working with Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. “The kind of music you play has more do with the musicians you play with than anything else,” Holland explains. He likes the change-ups, the diversity. “It keeps everything moving to reach across genres. It feeds my creative fire. Music is a journey. It takes you through many landscapes.”

Dave Holland Trio with guest Chris Potter perform at 8 p.m. Friday, April 7, in Revolution Hall, 1300 S.E. Stark St. Tickets and info online.

Angela Allen lives in Portland and writes about the arts. She is a published poet and photographer and teaches creative and journalistic writing to Portland-area students. Her web site is angelaallenwrites.com.  

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