Red's letter day at Bowl


The jazz world is going to celebrate the 80th birthday of Red Holloway on Sunday at the Playboy Jazz Festival. And though he might be a little short on worldwide recognition, this is a man who's long and deep on talent, not to mention endurance.

Holloway's genius on the tenor saxophone continues to take him all over the world -- to Vienna, Israel and Chicago in the past week or two, to the Hollywood Bowl for the festival and then on to Switzerland for 10 days. He keeps this frightening schedule year in and year out.

"Oh man, it's nothing; you get on the plane, you go to sleep, and you don't try and drink all the alcohol," Holloway said. "That's the whole secret -- you get you some rest, have a liter-and-a-half of water."

The octogenarian musician travels alone. "I have a suitcase and I have a horn case, and I have a little carry-on on wheels. Actually, everything is on wheels, so I don't have any problem. But it certainly would be nice to have a sweet young lady to travel with me, kind of as a keeper."

The genial birthday celebrant was born in Helena, Ark., home of the King Biscuit Blues Festival, on May 31, 1927. At age 5 he and his mother moved to Chicago, where he graduated from DuSable High School.

He sat next to the fleet tenorman Johnny Griffin in the DuSable big band and joined Eugene "Senator" Wright's big band at the age of 16 -- at a salary.

So now you have a dude born in Arkansas and brought up in Chicago. Thus, when blues piano legend Roosevelt Sykes (who wrote "Night Time Is the Right Time," among other classics) asked him to join his band and tour the country, he fit right in. Soon came gigs with Nat "Lotsa Poppa" Towles, Willie Dixon, Junior Parker, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Lloyd Price, John Mayall, B.B. King. Memphis Slim, Lefty Bates and Lionel Hampton.

Sticking around Chicago, Holloway got hired by Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Ben Webster, Jimmy Rushing, Arthur Prysock, Dakota Staton, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Wardell Gray, Sonny Rollins, Red Rodney, Lester Young, Joe Williams, Redd Foxx, Aretha Franklin, Yusef Lateef and Dexter Gordon as they passed through town.

In the 1960s, when jazz took shelter from rock in the organ lounge, Holloway worked with organist Brother Jack McDuff, with George Benson sharing the solos. Later, he and Sonny Stitt took out a saxophone duo, and he toured with the Elder Statesmen of Jazz, including trumpeters Harry "Sweets" Edison and Clark Terry. In 1967, Holloway moved to Los Angeles and two years later became the coordinator of talent at the late Parisian Room. He did this for 15 years, hiring just about everybody in the world of jazz and blues.

That's getting to be a lot of years of playing, though not quite as many as the age of the Viennese church under which rests Jazzland, the Austrian club where Holloway recently finished an engagement. That one has been there since the eighth century.

"I haven't slowed down any," Holloway said. "You better play fast if you wanna stay out here on the road with these youngsters. And I've played with Clark Terry. You know Clark Terry -- he might be old, but Clark Terry's a bad man. Don't talk about playing slow. Clark can play fast! And you have to keep up."

"So you're still up and at 'em?" Holloway was asked.

"Of course," he replied.

"That's a rare thing," his interviewer remarked, "considering that most of the people you started out with ..."

"Are dead," Holloway finished, laughing. "It's kind of nerve-racking, but I say, 'Well, you're not going until your time comes.' My friend says, 'But suppose it's the fellow's time next to you?' "

And he laughed again.