From Jazz Camp to Montreux to New York: “I’m Going to See What Happens”
Like so many aspiring creative artists before him, jazz guitarist Tommy Holladay finds himself amid the bright lights of the big city – New York City.
“I’m just trying to make my living by playing music,” said Holladay, who moved to the Big Apple several weeks ago.
“Most of my musician friends are here, I have some money saved up and I’m going to see what happens.
He brings with him newly-earned chops: Earlier this summer, he was among 10 semi-finalists in a world-wide electric guitar competition for professional guitarists.
The event was held in Montreux, Switzerland, as part of the famed Montreux Jazz Festival.
Holladay, a three-time alumnus of UC San Diego Extension’s annual Jazz Camp, is a multi-faceted musician who enjoys playing pop, rock, blues and “a little” classical.
But jazz is his passion.
“[Guitarist] Wes Montgomery was definitely one of my first influences, but I have a much more contemporary, aggressive style,” he said. “I would say I am more influenced by [saxophone legend] John Coltrane because he can play so sensitively but he also can play so raw, bluesy, and intensely.”
Holladay, 25, is now ready to spread his musical wings. In May, he completed his master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. That followed his undergraduate studies at the Berklee College of Music, another acclaimed Boston music school.
His father, Mark, himself a noted blues organist, couldn’t be more proud of his son’s chosen career path.
“I’m especially happy that he’s starting to fulfill his dream of being in New York,” said Mark, vice president of drug discovery and medicinal chemistry at San Diego’s Ambit Biosciences. “He’s starting to rub elbows with the best musicians in the world.”
As for how Mark’s musical prowess compares with his son’s, the father puts it this way: “He surpassed me at about age 14 or so. He’s got natural talent and a huge amount of determination. He’s worked very hard to achieve his high level.”
A graduate of Scripps Ranch High School, Tommy credits Extension’s Jazz Camp with inspiring him to grow as a musician and composer.
“One of my instructors [Geoffrey Keezer], challenged me to write my first jazz song ever,” he recalled. “I had written other songs in the past, but they were rock. It turned out to be the first time in the history of Jazz Camp that an ensemble performed a student’s song at a recital. The experience of performing my song was very fulfilling. ”
Along with pursuing nightclub gigs and teaching private guitar lessons in New York, he’s also taking a few online classes from Harvard in computer programming.
“I don’t know if I’m going to pursue computer programing as a career,” said Tommy. “For right now, I’m ready to take my music as far as I can go.”
Photos by Kyumin Shim and Carol Holladay
Original UCSD Extension Newsletter
Tommy Holladay Quintet at 98 Bottles
Robert Bush, August 17, 2012
98 Bottles hosted the Tommy Holladay Quintet last night, a fascinating blend of emerging and fully formed talent. Holladay is a fine young guitarist working in the post- Abercrombie vein, and he shares the front-line with trombonist John Egizi. Together, these guys have a telepathic chemistry, which was demonstrated by the fluidity in which they phrased melodies.
The rhythm section was hitting it hard all night. On piano, Joshua White has come to a place where he elevates any musical experience, on bass Rob Thorsen was laying down deep grooves and on drums, the remarkably explosive Jonathan Pinson kept the tension ratcheted to an ecstatic degree.
Opening with a tune from the drummer, Holladay began alone, with clouds of volume-pedal swells before Egizi’s bone joined in on a ECM sounding melody that reminded me a lot of Kenny Wheeler. Holladay’s solo used short, repeating fragments that skirted the edges of tonality–then White picked up on the guitarist’s concluding ideas–extrapolating them wildly and drawing Pinson into some furious exchanges. Thorsen took the thick, meaty tones of his bass and applied them with the wisdom of experience for a solo that told a story in itself.
Holladay’s clean-toned legato (with a touch of digital delay) opened his “The Song I’ve Never Heard,” with flowing melodic passes, then White proved how lyrical he can be–before turning up the heat with drums in tow. Pinson was super loud and active–sounding like a mix of Roy Haynes and Sunny Murray.
The guitarist’s smooth voice -leading set up the the melodic pairing with Egizi on “Deliberation,” where trombone and guitar seemed to breathe together. Holladay’s solo mixed dreamy ideas with chromatic sequences–building to an exciting climax.
Herbie Hancock’s “Riot,” was next, starting with explosive fusillades before everyone dropped out but Egizi, who built an astonishing solo that navigated the divide between “inside” and “outside” techniques for his best presentation of the evening. White took the hand-off, sending waves of kinetic energy over the nervous jangles of the rhythm section, sounding like the Cecil Taylor Trio before Thorsen threw down some furious walking lines to channel the swing effect. Pinson and Holladay wrapped it up with winding, grinding ebullience.
Thoroughly enjoyable evening of very modern music, superbly executed. The only drawback was the extremely loud, well-lubricated talking from a small, blond woman in the back. 98 Bottles co-owner Steve Mesaros became my instant hero when he asked her to tone it down–a move that saved the evening for a lot of us.
Photo by Mark Holladay