I recently received an invitation to Jazz Bassist Olivier Hollands DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) recital. It was titled ‘Dicey Moments’. The gig was held in the Kenneth Myers centre at the top of Shortland Street. This ornate crenellated building has a solid place in the history of New Zealand Music as it was formerly the home of the old Shortland Street TV studios. In its time the studio had hosted various radio orchestras and a few Jazz programs had emanated from there.
When an experienced musician and gifted educator like Oli is performing a Doctorate recital it is bound to be an extraordinary gig. Just playing a few standards would never cut it as the judging panel would certainly be looking for something unique and innovative. In my view the performance easily met the required standard and all those who attended (mainly musicians) were deeply impressed. Oli had written a number of complex charts for the recital and these conveyed a profound understanding of how improvised music can work. While they were undoubtedly a challenge to play, they were still incredibly accessible to the listener. The tunes flowed as fresh as a mountain stream and better yet they provided wonderful vehicles for the musicians to interpret and blow over.
I assume that the brief would be to choose band mates with considerable experience, solid reading skills and depth. Band mates who would augment the vision, excel, but never overpower the lead instrument or the music. These musicians were among the best on offer and they understood very well that this was about the music. Oli remained firmly in control while encouraging the musicians and loosening the reigns when required; this is what a good leader does.
Oli had split the recital into two district halves; so to achieve a chiaroscuro effect and the appropriate contrast in styles, he had chosen two different bands. One was a straight ahead jazz unit with Roger Manins on tenor, Kevin Field on piano and Ron Samsom on drums (Oli on upright bass). The second unit was a fusion band with Dr Stephen Small keys, Nick Granville solid body guitar and Stephen Thomas drums. Once again Oli played an upright bass, which worked exceptionally well, as the slap and bite provided a real contrast to the non acoustic instruments. In the manner of all good leaders he joked with the audience. “I used to agonise about the tune titles” he said, “but one day I had the profound realisation that it doesn’t matter what you name a tune. The next tune title has nothing what-so-ever to do with the music”.
The musicians gave their best and I have seldom heard any of them play better. The fusion half had the audience gasping in delight, as Nick Granville’s guitar, soared around Stephen Smalls fusion keyboard flurries. The success of this recital is a tribute to the musicians but above all it is a tribute to Oli Holland. His bass lines whether soloing or underpinning his charts worked perfectly. Dr Oli it is then.