This teen plays and the jazz world listens
WHEN Christopher Hollyday first played in a club, he kept thinking about what had happened early in the career of his idol, Charlie (Bird) Parker. ``Bird played so badly that the drummer threw a cymbal at him,'' he says softly.Skip to next paragraph
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Well, nobody throws anything at Hollyday when he picks up his alto saxophone. Quite the contrary. They generally think his playing is fleet, brilliant, accomplished.
This fact is not remarkable in itself -- unless you consider that Christopher was 14 at the time of his professional debut and had been improvising for less than a year.
Now, at the ripe old age of 15, Christopher Hollyday is in the early stages of a flight that could one day take him into the jazz constellations. His trajectory, while highly individual, suggests some general truths about blazing musical talent and the way it can be nurtured.
Hollyday has played in numerous clubs around New England -- twice with his own quartet (including such solid jazz names as Alan Dawson and John Lockwood). He has won the ``young talent award'' from the National Association of Jazz Educators, as well as ``most valuable musician'' on the state level. He's been featured in Downbeat magazine, and has astounded Leonard Feather, a jazz historian and columnist.
One night recently, the young musician -- all arms and long neck and cherubic smiles -- took the stage in a local club. Mumbling shyly into the microphone, he fairly whispered, ``One . . . two . . . one, two, three.'' Then he took off in a way that confirmed Leonard Feather's observation in the Los Angeles Times: ``An astonishing 14-year-old virtuoso, Chris Hollyday . . . tore through his Charlie Parker licks with the kind of wild abandon that can only be born of artful dedication.''
He looked so clean cut, handsome, and Jimmy Stewartesque that you'd cast him as a sort of ``Mr. Smith goes to Birdland.'' And those who watch him say he's beginning just such a journey to jazz greatness.
Christopher plays almost exclusively the be-bop lexicon developed by Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, a musical idiom that has been the mother lode for several generations of jazz greats from Art Blakey to John Coltrane to McCoy Tyner to Miles Davis.
Sitting in his room a couple of days earlier -- under a poster that says ``BIRD LIVES!'' -- Hollyday has a closetful of records behind him and another double-barreled set of stacks beside him. He talks about what happens to him when he plays:
``Jazz is a free music,'' he says, flashing a handsome smile. ``It's like snapping your fingers, and your blood starts to circulate, and you move around, and something happens. You start to fall in love with the music. There's something inside you that you want to play.''
``Be-bop is a language, a difficult language,'' he observes. ``Some of it is very difficult.''
It takes work, lots of it, for Hollyday to master this language. When he is preparing for a performance, as he is this particular afternoon, he practices for up to six hours a day, working on ``my tone, my scales, maybe a new tune.'' He demonstrates by blowing long, soft whole notes that crescendo, then vanish.
If he keeps working like this, observers say, he has a shot at achieving some kind of greatness.
``He has such an edge and such a way of presenting that material,'' comments Tony Cennamo, a Boston jazz disc jockey. ``You hear that stuff played a million times. But his solo work is not just copying Charlie Parker. That little kid is more rhythmically sophisticated'' than most of the grown-up Parker imitators.