Twice a year, like clockwork, Red Holloway surfaces at El Chapultepec, the beloved wreck of a jazz club at 20th and Market streets. Denver musicians -- especially saxophonists -- always drop by for another dose of Holloway's powerful, blues-inflected playing, a spread-wing style that reflects his past collaborations with everyone from Dexter Gordon, Sonny Stitt and Billie Holiday to B.B. King and Lloyd Price. Meanwhile, the jabbering throngs of LoDo absorb Holloway's vivid big-city blues singing, spiced with mischief and a penchant for the bawdy lyric: "I kissed her on the lips," he wailed last Thursday night, "but left her behind for you."
Arkansas-born, Holloway made his name in Chicago and his bones on the road. Now 73, this witty, moon-faced master of the alto and tenor saxophones still travels between 30 and 38 weeks a year, Fargo to London, Topeka to Rome. A glint in the eye lets you in on a secret: "To travel and make money doing what you love? What you always loved? How do you beat that?" So he's got no plans to unpack -- or to curtail his career as a polymorph. Holloway just recorded a CD with British blues great John Mayall. Next he hooks up with jazz tenor man Plas Johnson. Who knows? Holloway and his old friend Horace Silver, both Californians now, often get together to share Chinese takeout and watch cowboy movies on TV. Maybe they'll record, too.
"Me, I'm just like a prostitute," the saxophonist cracks. "I'll play anything." Including some tongue-in-cheek.
The fellow in the white nightgown, as comedian W.C. Fields used to call him, has recently swept through the jazz world with relentless fury. He took Stanley Turrentine, then Brazilian guitarist Luis Bonfa, who helped launch the Bossa Nova craze of the '60s, and soul-jazz organist Brother Jack McDuff, the first Hammond B-3 specialist to break away from Jimmy Smith's powerful influence. Last month, Lou Levy died. He was a maverick pianist too little known by the public but cherished by the singers he accompanied over the years -- including the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Peggy Lee and Frank Sinatra. For a posthumous taste of Levy at his best, hunt down a copy of 1987's The Kid's Got Ears (JassIs).
Cruelest of all, J.J. Johnson is dead. The greatest jazz trombonist since World War II committed suicide February 4 at age 77. Johnson had suffered from prostate cancer and other health problems. The first trombonist who adapted to the lightning articulations and blinding tempos of bebop, the Indianapolis native never ceased to experiment, and he influenced every kid who followed. With his death, only a few true giants of his era remain: saxophonist Sonny Rollins, pianists John Lewis and Horace Silver, bassist Ray Brown and drummer Max Roach.
(For his part, the aforementioned Mr. Holloway vows: "Time comes, I'm gonna send a sub.")
The commotion stirred up by one emergent jazzman often obscures the talent of another. The young pianist Brad Mehldau -- part Bill Evans, part European-style chamber player -- is all the rage, and his talent warrants it. But here's a word for Los Angeles-based Billy Childs, who continues to work in relative obscurity. No stranger to sonic agitation or hammering chords, Childs can also treat a ballad with such tender invention that it breaks your heart. His 1999 CD SkimCoat (Metropolitan), with bassist Buster Williams and drummer Carl Allen, is sublime. Now he's followed it with a brilliant tribute to Herbie Hancock called Bedtime Stories (32 Jazz). Childs's takes on "Dolphin Dance" and "Maiden Voyage" (with George Mraz on bass and Billy Hart on drums) prove to be -- heresy be damned -- the equal of Hancock's originals.
Looking for jazz on the Internet? You won't hear much actual music (at least yet), but if you're interested in useful portals to jazz information -- musician biographies and interviews, CD reviews, history, news on festivals, concerts and clubs -- hook up with AllAboutJazz.com or JazzReview.com; meanwhile, Jazz.About.com offers, among many other things, Blaine Fallis's helpful nine-step guide to building a great jazz CD collection and, for the comedians in the house, his eleven suggestions for "How to Be a Jazz Snob." Selections from the list:
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1. Ignore all music made after 1976.
5. Say the word "fusion" with a knowing smirk, or say that fusion was "a great way to meet women and have a great time."
6. Admit that a few white people can play jazz, but it's mostly cracker jazz.
11. Use the Internet exclusively to flame all smooth-jazzers.