Bill Holman Day

May 21, 1927 – May 5, 2024

A birthday tribute to the innovative arranger-composer

Bill Holman was born on May 21, 1927, and recently celebrated his 95th birthday.

Born in Olive, California, he began playing the clarinet in junior high school but soon switched to the tenor saxophone.

After serving in the U.S. Navy from 1944 to 1946, he initially studied mechanical engineering in college but later changed career paths and attended the Westlake College of Music.

Holman played tenor saxophone with Ike Carpenter and Charlie Barnet from 1950 to 1951 and also wrote arrangements for bandleader Bob Keane.

He gained recognition for his writing and playing abilities during 1952-1954 when he became an important member of the Stan Kenton Orchestra. His charts showcased both swing and a touch of dissonance, as heard on albums like “New Concepts Of Artistry In Rhythm,” “Contemporary Concepts,” “Kenton Showcase,” and “Adventures In Jazz.”

While Holman was a fine tenor saxophonist who recorded in various settings in the 1950s, his writing eventually became more prominent. He composed and arranged for artists such as Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Harry James, Count Basie, Louie Bellson, Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band, Terry Gibbs, Maynard Ferguson, numerous singers, and West Coast jazz combos.

Throughout the years, Holman has written extensively for television, pop groups, and European jazz orchestras, but closest to his heart is the Bill Holman Big Band, which has been active in the Los Angeles area since 1975.

Bill Holman still leads his orchestra, as can be seen in this 2019 performance of Billy Strayhorn’s “Raincheck” by his big band. The performance features solos from pianist Christian Jacob, tenor saxophonist Doug Webb, and trumpeter Aaron Janik, as well as some dazzling composed ensembles.

-Scott Yanow