"Jazz is America's unique contribution to the art of the world, and I am proud to have my contributions recognized by the awarding of this honor. The list of past and present honorees contains most of my heroes and influences, and to be included among them is truly humbling and gratifying."
Bill Holman's unique and complex arrangements have long been appreciated by musicians and critics alike, although he is best known on the West Coast.
He took up clarinet in junior high school and tenor saxophone in high school, by which time he was leading his own band. After serving in the U.S. Navy and studying engineering, Holman decided in the late 1940s that he wanted to write big band music and enrolled at the Westlake College of Music in Los Angeles. He also studied composition privately with Russ Garcia and saxophone with Lloyd Reese.
By 1949, Holman's career was well underway. After writing for Charlie Barnet, in 1952 he began his association with Stan Kenton, for whom he would compose (and perform) for many years to come. During the 1950s, he also was active in the West Coast jazz movement, playing in small bands led by Shorty Rogers and Shelly Manne and co-leading a quintet with Mel Lewis. During the following decade, Holman expanded his writing efforts, working for bands led by jazz greats such as Louie Bellson, Count Basie, Bob Brookmeyer, Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, Gerry Mulligan, Doc Severinsen, and others. In addition, he wrote for high-profile vocalists such as Natalie Cole (including her Grammy Award-winning album Unforgettable), Tony Bennett, Carmen MacRae, Anita O'Day, Ella Fitzgerald, and Sarah Vaughan.
In 1975, Holman launched the Bill Holman Band but recording was elusive; the recording of The Bill Holman Band in 1987 was his first release as a leader in 27 years. Since 1980, Holman increasingly has become more active in Europe, including writing, conducting, and performing extended works for the WDR Symphony Orchestra in Cologne, Germany, and the Metropole Orchestra in the Netherlands.
To date, Holman has won three Grammy Awards: Best Instrumental Arrangement of "Take the 'A' Train" for Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Orchestra (1987); Best Instrumental Composition for "A View from the Side" for the Bill Holman Band (1995); and Best Instrumental Arrangement of "Straight, No Chaser" for the Bill Holman Band (1997). He was voted "Best Arranger" in the JazzTimes readers' poll four times; and received the "Arranger of the Year" award three times in DownBeat magazine's readers' poll and critics' poll. In 2000, the Bill Holman Collection of scores and memorabilia became part of the Smithsonian Institution's permanent collection in Washington, DC.
In 2006, he was inducted into the Rutgers Jazz Hall of Fame, and in 2008, he was doubly honored: a Golden Score Award from the American Society of Music Arrangers and Composers and a place in the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Jazz Wall of Fame.
The Fabulous Bill Holman, Coral, 1954-57
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