Will Holshouser, Dave Brubeck
January 1, 1970This week's Jazz Notes was part of an accordion package, with my profile of Cambridge native Will Holshouser paired with Kevin Lowenthal's profile of Richard Galliano. It's not often there are any jazz accordionists playing in town, but last night there were two in Cambridge.
The Calendar pick was Dave Brubeck, who played last night at Sanders Theatre and will be at Berklee Performance Center tonight. Another good show will be tonight's Marblehead Summer Jazz performance by Esperanza Spalding. I'd planned on making that one myself, but forgot I have a conflict. This is the weekend we're taking our son to visit Thomas the Tank Engine somewhere on the south shore.
Eric Jackson of "Eric in the Evening" was named the top jazz broadcaster of 2006 at the Jazz Journalists Association awards dinner in New York on Monday. I thought I'd make mention of it in the column this week, but for some reason the item didn't run. But I was there to see him get the award, and I also saw lots of other people in the audience that night: Joe Lovano, Esperanza Spalding, Christian Scott, Nasheet Waits, Jason Moran, Andrew White, Maria Schneider, Roy Haynes, Dewey Redman, Donal Fox, Steve Schwartz, Gary Giddins, Francis Davis, Nate Chinen, Bill Milkowski, Howard Mandel, and my old Down Beat boss Art Lange. And, of course, many others. And I dined seated beside Cab Calloway's grandson.
Esperanza was also interviewed by Eric Jackson on his radio show Thursday. And she told me at the JJA dinner that she understood about my missing her gig. She's familiar with Thomas the Tank Engine, being young enough to have grown up watching him, so she understands the importance of this weekend's trip.
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As a composer, he's broken out of the format
By Bill Beuttler, Globe Correspondent | June 23, 2006
Will Holshouser grew up in Cambridge, but he didn't pick up the accordion until he'd left his childhood home near Porter Square and started at Wesleyan University. Holshouser was playing piano back then, and as he describes it, his infatuation with his new instrument was as accidental as it was sudden.
"When I was 18," Holshouser says from his home in Brooklyn, "I was kind of at this place where I felt like, 'Well, if I practice these standards five hours a day for the next 10 years, I'll end up sounding a lot like my teacher.' And at that point a friend of mine bought me an old accordion at a rummage sale, and gave it to me for a surprise. It was almost like a joke. It was in terrible condition, it was hardly playable, but I just fell in love with it."
Holshouser, 37, stuck with it, and tonight he and his trio celebrate the release of their second CD, "Singing to a Bee" at the Lily Pad in Cambridge.
At Wesleyan, Holshouser studied composition early on with the saxophonist Bill Barron. When Barron died in 1989, Wesleyan brought in an even more avant-garde composer to replace him: Anthony Braxton.
"Braxton really blasted the doors open for me as a composer," says Holshouser, "because he taught me about surprise and to really break out of the standard head-solos-head form of jazz. My music doesn't sound very much like his music, because of my interest in folk music and the various accordion styles, but he really broke me out of some ruts as a composer."
In those days, Holshouser was busy teaching himself the accordion on the side. He gigged with a band, discovered the music of Clifton Chenier and Astor Piazzolla, and got a grant from Wesleyan to spend a couple of weeks in Louisiana exploring Cajun and Zydeco accordion technique. He graduated in 1991, and began gigging around New York. In a stroke of luck, in 1995 he began studying with the legendary accordionist William Schimmel, who played with everyone from the Tango Project to Tom Waits.
"I'd been in New York for a few years," says Holshouser, "and I'd heard his playing on Tom Waits records. Then one day I was standing on the subway platform. I had my accordion, and somebody came up to me and said, 'Hey, is that an accordion?'"
The other guy, it turned out, was already studying accordion with Schimmel, and he enthusiastically recommended that Holshouser do likewise.
"When he first came to me," Schimmel says of Holshouser, "he certainly had skills in the realm of a person who was self-taught. But he was pretty much a one-handed accordionist."
Holshouser's keyboard hand was much more developed than the other one, so he and Schimmel went to work on developing the left hand, and then on getting the two hands to work together. Schimmel also worked with Holshouser compositionally, among other things steering him toward the French classical composer Olivier Messiaen, whose work Holshouser pays homage to with his piece "For the Birds."
"The final phase, in terms of technique, was his establishment of an inner pulse, which he ended up calling his 'inner clock,'" Schimmel says. "That's an important factor in Will's playing. When you listen to him, his beat is near perfect — and that's true whether he's playing with a group or whether he's playing by himself."
Holshouser's trio with bassist David Phillips and trumpeter Ron Horton came together in 1998 after Holshouser spent some time concentrating on performing solo. He'd had a trio with a conventional rhythm section before that, but wanted to play without drums.
"In part, I was inspired by tango music, the music of Astor Piazzolla, because that music is very rhythmic without drums. I wanted to have a group where we could have different rhythmic setups, but without a percussionist to lean on, so that the dynamics could be wider."
Holshouser's writing for the group features lots of bowing from Phillips, and Horton playing almost constantly on some pieces — but always with Braxton's call for surprise in mind.
"A lot of what I like about traditional accordion music is the kind of simplicity, the emotional directness, the rhythmic drive," Holshouser explains. "So a lot of my content is kind of inspired by that, but I think if you put it into a more surprising form, then sometimes the emotional content comes through more effectively."
The Will Holshouser trio performs at 8 tonight at the Lily Pad. Tickets $10. Call 617-388-1168 or visit www.lily-pad.net.
© Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company
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Calendar Jazz Picks
Dave Brubeck Quartet
Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy St., Harvard Square, Cambridge. 617-876-7777. 8 p.m. $30-$37.50. Repeats Sat, Berklee Performance Center, 136 Massachusetts Ave., Boston. 617-876-7777. 8 p.m. $30-$37.50.
Dave Brubeck (above) celebrated his 85th birthday in fine style last year, releasing the excellent CD "London Flat, London Sharp" in the spring and then traveling to England to perform with the London Symphony Orchestra on the date itself (Dec. 6). Brubeck has seemingly been around forever: His widely known 1959 hit, "Take Five," made the album "Time Out" the first million-selling jazz instrumental recording. But even now, Brubeck still seems to be everywhere. His current quartet Bobby Militello on alto sax, Michael Moore on bass, and Randy Jones on drums continues to tour relentlessly. Aside from this weekend's back-to-back performances at Sanders Theatre and Berklee Performance Center, there'll be other relatively nearby stops soon in New Haven (Aug. 5), Northampton (Aug. 6), Newport (Aug. 13), and at Tanglewood (Sept. 3).
Sat 6/ 24 Esperanza Spalding When she isn't playing bass and touring with Joe Lovano's quartet, Spalding, 21, doubles on vocals while leading ensembles of her own around town. This one will have fellow rising star Mike Tucker on tenor sax, Berklee faculty mate Rick Peckham on guitar, and Lyndon Rochelle on drums. Marblehead Summer Jazz, Unitarian-Universalist Church, 28 Mugford St., Marblehead. 781-631-1528. 8 p.m. $22, $20 in advance.
Sat 6/ 24 Bill Charlap Pianist Charlap's longtime trio with the unrelated Washingtons Peter on bass and Kenny on drums specializes in sublime interpretations of standards. His last two CDs for Blue Note put exquisite spins on the work of George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein. Arsenal Center for the Arts, 321 Arsenal St., Watertown. 617-923-84 . 8 p.m. $30.