Happy Birthday Bill Holman

May 21, 1927

A birthday tribute to the innovative arranger-composer

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

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

After serving in the U.S. Navy during 1944-46, he studied mechanical engineering in college but in the late 1940s changed careers, attending the Westlake College of Music.

Holman played tenor-sax with Ike Carpenter and Charlie Barnet (1950-51) and wrote arrangements for bandleader Bob Keane.

He gained recognition for his writing and playing during 1952-54 when he was an important part of the Stan Kenton Orchestra; his charts were both swinging and a bit dissonant as can be heard on such Kenton albums as New Concepts Of Artistry In Rhythm, Contemporary Concepts, Kenton Showcase, and Adventures In Jazz.

A fine tenor-saxophonist who recorded in a variety of settings in the 1950s, Holman’s writing eventually overshadowed his playing; he wrote arrangements and compositions for Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Harry James, Count Basie, Louie Bellson, Gerry Mulligan’s Concert Jazz Band, Terry Gibbs and Maynard Ferguson, many singers, and West Coast jazz combos.

Holman has written extensively for television, pop groups, and European jazz orchestras through the years 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 on this 2019 performance of Billy Strayhorn’s “Raincheck” by his big band, with solos from pianist Christian Jacob, tenor-saxophonist Doug Webb, and trumpeter Aaron Janik and some dazzling composed ensembles.

-Scott Yanow


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