The many faces of Melvin Holland
By: Katei Cranford
April is Jazz Appreciation Month. To celebrate, the High Point Arts Council will host the Melvin Holland Quartet on April 18 at the Centennial Station Arts Center in downtown High Point.
A true Jazz appreciator, Holland is an accomplished saxophonist, UNCG School of Music graduate and former host of the long-running “Jazzboro” radio show, who spent his college-years hosting a weekly “Jazz Party” in his living-room.
But he’s no mere jazzman. The 26-year-old multi-instrumentalist runs the genre-gamut: also performing in Greensboro rock band, Harrison Ford Mustang, and with singer-songwriter Johanna Breed.
“I was just lucky to have band directors that let me play whatever I wanted and a family who listened to a diverse catalog of music,” Holland said of his foundation. ”It really allowed me to discover myself as a musician.”
Growing up in a musical home, Holland has been officially playing since age 11. “I’ve always just naturally been drawn to it,” he noted of his upbringing, “my dad used to be a DJ, and my parents played music all the time.”
The diversity Holland espouses isn’t exactly common. Though musicians often boast a range of tastes, it’s rare to find those who play both basement shows and recital halls.
But Holland’s been rocking the double-life since college, where he attended the jazz studies program by day and hosted house-show venue by night. A man of practical composure, he recommends hydration and earplugs, and credits “plenty of water and rest” for his success maintaining balance between his varied music pursuits.
As for crediting his influences, Holland lists Hendrix, HUM, and Fugazi among his favorite rock bands. John Coltrane and Wynton Marsalis reign high on the jazz-end.
”I’ve kind of adventured into writing jazz music with electronic influence,” Holland said of his latest sonic pursuit. “I’m experimenting with running a wah-wah with reverb and delay pedals with the saxophone,” he explained, “that’s for the future, though.”
For the High Point performance, Holland’s chosen jazz standards with unique arrangements for a more traditional set.
“It’s going to be a very intimate show,” he noted, “I’ve gathered a quartet of players I enjoy, and I really just want to get up there and have fun.”
On the studio-end of things, Holland has a jazz-electronica concept album in the making. ”I’ve been writing the story, and some of the music is already recorded,” he explained. “It’s a work in progress.“
As for other works in progress, Holland and his Harrison Ford Mustang outfit recently wrapped recording at Legitimate Business.
“Kris is a magician, yo,” Holland said regarding Kris Hilbert, the mastermind behind the revered Glenwood record studio. “He does phenomenal work and makes the process just seamlessly flow.”
While Sips, the first EP from Harrison Ford Mustang, was recorded in a shed with four microphones, their use of an actual studio for upcoming self-titled release highlights the official direction they’re taking.
“We’ve gone from a lackadaisical, slacker rock band to a more upbeat, driving sound,” Holland noted of their development, “we went from sounding like Pavement to more like Fugazi.”
Holland plays bass for the four-piece, though rounding-out a rhythm section for a punk group wasn’t planned. “I always loved listening to rock music, but I kind of just fell into playing in a rock band,” Holland explained, “though I like the direction it’s going.”
As for how his two worlds collide melodically, “I’ve kinda melded the two together,” he said. ”I use my knowledge from being a jazz musician in my bass playing all the time and vice versa.”
“When you’re playing to seated audience with an ensemble, the energy is coming from the players more than the audience,” he explained of the different show environments, “but when you’re playing a basement show or in a pit, the energy is coming more from the audience than the performers.”
“In either situation, the transfer of energy starts with the players,” he insisted.
Musically, Holland expresses an array of varied energy, with the upcoming weeks holding several chances for him to show it off.
The Melvin Holland Quartet will celebrate Jazz Appreciation month on April 18, as part of the “Third Thursday” concert series presented by the High Point Arts Council, at the Centennial Station Arts Center in downtown High Point.
Harrison Ford Mustang has shows on Apr. 20 at Lucky’s Skate Shop with Bergenline; on Apr. 24 with Home Town Girl at Soul Relief Records; and on May 19 with Andy the Doorbum at Monstercade.
Katei Cranford is a Triad music nerd who hosts the Tuesday Tour Report, a radio show that runs like a mixtape of touring bands, 5:30-7pm on WUAG 103.1fm.