Originally from the United Kingdom, Dave Holland is one of the most influential bass players in the history of modern jazz. After making a name for himself in the 1960s as a sideman with Miles Davis, he formed the Gateway Trio with drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarist John Abercrombie in the mid-1970s. Subsequently, the musician and composer put together various highly successful quartets and quintets. While known to occasionally play electric bass and cello, he expresses himself most eloquently on double bass. Often emulated, Holland's style is rarely equalled.
Dave Holland was born in Wolverhampton, England. As a teenager, he took up the bass after trying out the ukulele and the guitar. While he briefly took piano lessons, he really worked on his technique on his own. His "teachers" were the jazz records he strove to play along with - the most influential being the recordings of bass players Larry Vinnegar and Ray Brown.
Later, he studied with James E. Merritt, of the London Philharmonic. Merritt recommended that Holland register for the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, which had a program that covered a variety of styles, from be-bop to orchestral music.
Holland began his professional career in 1966, when he made his entry on the London scene alongside guitarist John McLaughlin, saxophonist John Surman, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and pianist John Taylor, to name just a few. At the time, he was interested in the music of composers such as Béla Bartók and was inspired by seasoned double bass players such as Charles Mingus.
Miles, Chick and company
A regular at Ronnie Scott's Club, Holland had the chance to perform with outstanding musicians who came through London, rubbing elbows with Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Joe Henderson. And it was there, one evening, that Miles Davis heard him play.
It wasn't long before the trumpeter invited him to join his group. Holland would spend nearly three years with the band, long enough to take part in recording sessions for the albums Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968), In a Silent Way (1968) and Bitches Brew (1970). Then he left Miles to explore new musical avenues. With pianist Chick Corea, he formed Circle, a free jazz quintet, which lasted only a short time.
In 1971, he met Manfred Eicher, who had just founded ECM. The German label would appear on Holland's recordings for the next 30 years. The first of those albums was Music from Two Basses, a high-level encounter with Barre Philips. The next, Conference of the Birds (1972), is an avant-jazz disc, with Holland making his debut as leader. During that period, the musician and composer also collaborated with Thelonius Monk and Stan Getz.
Then, with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette, the bass player formed the Gateway Trio. The group made two discs between 1975 and 1977, before entering a dormant period. On Emerald Tears (1977) and Life Cycle (1982), Holland went solo.
His first quintet, formed in 1985, relied on the services of his old accomplice Kenny Wheeler, trumpet, Steve Coleman, saxophone, Julian Priester, trombone, and Steve Ellington, drums. Triplicate (1988) was recorded as a trio, with Coleman and DeJohnette, and Extensions (1989) as a quartet, with Coleman, guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Martin Smith. During that period, Holland devoted some of his time to teaching. From 1987 to 1990, he served on the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music.
Holland at the Festival
The musician and composer made his first visit to the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal in 1990, when he performed in the opening concert along with Pat Metheny, Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette. Two years later, he returned, giving a solo performance, and again in 1995, with the Gateway Trio, which reunited 20 years after it was initially formed.
In 1999, Holland took part in four concerts at the Festival, notably as a duo with oud player Anouar Brahem. The following year, he was invited to play five concerts as part of the prestigious Invitation Series. He performed with Gateway; as a duo with guitarist Jim Hall; in a trio with pianist Herbie Hancock and drummer Gene Jackson; with his quintet, reuniting Steve Nelson (vibraphone), Chris Potter (saxophone), Robin Eubanks (trombone) and Billy Kilson (drums); and finally, with his newly formed big band.
In 2005, Holland left ECM to found a new label, Dare2 Records. Pathways, released in 2010, was the first recording by the Dave Holland Octet. Hands, a collaboration with the flamenco guitarist Pepe Habichuela, came out the same year. In 2011, the bassist dropped by the Festival to take part in the Invitation Series for the second time, performing once again with Anouar Brahem.