This teen plays and the jazz world listens
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``I don't see how he can miss, if no one leads him astray,'' observes alto saxophonist Lee Konitz. ``I heard him play in Dallas in January. He had already assumed the ability to play interminably long and surprisingly well -- I mean through several choruses and through complicated progressions.'' Konitz adds with mock concern: ``Don't come to my gig.''Skip to next paragraph
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At his own gig, Hollyday leads his quartet through a long, slow-building development of Duke Ellington's ``In a Sentimental Mood,'' occasionally taking off in flights of fantasy from the main theme. More characteristically, he whizzes through James Williams's ``Focus,'' putting together a synthesis of chord changes, scales, and patterns that are difficult to keep track of, let alone analyze.
Over the course of a three-set evening, he shows a blend of musical maturity and youthful inexperience. In playing his own and other people's compositions, he goes through a lot of recycled material from records he has heard; but he also has stretches of real creativity.
``He's rare. Very rare,'' says Alan Dawson, a celebrated jazz drummer and educator. If he continues to grow at the pace he has marked so far, Dawson says, ``by the time he's 25 or 30, he should be one of the big definitive voices on his instrument.''
Dawson is quick to add that more than talent and happenstance have contributed to his development.
``He's blessed with a certain amount of talent to begin with. But it has also been in a good environment. He gets around to hear good music. That talent has been nurtured. It's coming out very early.''
The environment Dawson refers to includes a home in which jazz has been spoken since Hollyday's birth. His father, Richard, a one-time drummer, encouraged early on the career of his older brother, Richard Jr., a 20-year-old trumpeter who has already caused something of a sensation. Richard Sr. has produced one record for his eldest son; another recording, with Chris and his quartet, is about to come out. Chris's father takes him out about every other weekend to hear live jazz.
Christopher Hollyday's musical upbringing also includes a public school program in nearby Norwood, Mass., that is noted for its intensity and commitment and for regularly winning band competitions. Local observers are concerned that he get into the ``right hands,'' and that his phenomenal technical ability not give him such easy success that he won't work hard to develop musical insights and solid music theory. So far, they say, his instruction seems to have stimulated all the right things in him. Th e real stimulus, however, came when he had his first confrontation with the be-bop he now plays.
``I started listening to jazz in the Fifth Grade,'' he recalls. ``I heard Charlie Parker, and that was it. Bang! Then it was 24 hours a day. I played all the Charlie Parker records I could find. I played them on an old plastic phonograph, the kind you listen to `Sesame Street' records on.''
``I'm giving it my all right now. Hopefully, forever.''
``My `self' is starting to come out in my music just a little bit now,'' he says. ``It's just beginning to happen.''
When he plays, he says, ``I'm trying to make sure I'm playing the right notes, that they fit into what the rhythm section is doing. Then I'm thinking about what's coming up.'' Meanwhile, he is improvising on a set of chord changes, formulating scales and patterns that follow in logical sequence. All of this comes together in an instant of time, and one can only wonder how he does it.
``I play exactly what comes to mind,'' he answers casually. ``That's what a jazz musician does.''