Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Holloway, Ron (Ronald Edward)

Holloway, Ron (Ronald Edward), tenor saxophone; b. Washington DC, 24 August, 1953. Ron grew up in a household where listening to jazz was a favorite pastime. His parents, Winston and Marjorie Holloway were, and are, avid jazz listeners. They parents met while attending Howard University, in Washington, D.C. They both loved jazz, and would frequently go to concerts at the Howard Theatre. During these early years, Ron heard and enjoyed his father's albums, but had no interest yet in becoming a musician himself.

In October of 1966, at thirteen years of age, Ron attended Carter G. Woodson Jr. High School. It was there that he was introduced to the alto saxophone. On the first day, during orientation, one of the speakers was the school band director, Arthur Capehart, who needed volunteers to come to the bandroom, and learn to play an instrument. Ron wasn't interested, but two friends convinced Ron to go with them, and when they showed up the next day Capehart asked them to choose a clarinet, a French horn, or alto saxophone. Ron immediately chose the saxophone and found he enjoyed practicing diligently. A few months later, Mr. Capehart switched Ron to the larger tenor saxophone. In December of 1966, the Holloways moved from a modest apartment in Washington, D.C. to a house in Takoma Park, MD, where he was able to practice in the basement.

Ron was now attending Takoma Park Jr. High, and playing in the school band. Each day upon returning home, he would absorb valuable lessons from his Dad's record collection. "One of the first players to make an impression on me was Willis "Gatortail" Jackson. His style was more R&B based, and therefore easier for me to grasp, at that early stage. Later, as my hearing became more advanced, I came under the sway of Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis, who remain my principle influences to this day. As I listened to all of these great players, I noticed something very important: They all had their own distinctive styles, and sounds. I realized this was the thing to strive for; a personal expression that people could recognize as ME!"

It wasn't long before Ron Holloway began to find his own voice on the tenor saxophone. When school let out in the summer of 1967, Ron would practice anywhere from 8 to 12 hours a day. "I didn't mind putting in a whole day of practice. I was thoroughly consumed by my instrument, and the music of my heroes." Over the next few years, Ron would regularly participate in jam sessions with school buddies, and joined his first Top 40/ R&B band: "The Speculations". More and more the practice of "sitting-in" became an important element in Ron's development, and a main reason for the saxophonist's versatility. It was not unusual to find him sitting-in with a jazz, R&B, funk, rock, fusion, blues, or even country band, all in the space of a week. Despite all of this local activity, Ron eventually felt the need for a greater challenge.

In the summer of 1974, he sat-in with trumpet great Freddie Hubbard. In 1975, Ron sat-in with his mentor and friend; tenor saxophone legend, and recent Grammy Award Winner, Sonny Rollins. 1977 proved to be a most pivotal year in Ron's career. It was in 1977 that Ron first met, and sat-in with Dizzy Gillespie. "By '77 I was making my living playing music. I was living in an apartment close to my old high school, and a couple of miles from my parents' house. Late one morning, I was recovering from playing until the wee hours, when the phone rang. It was my Dad informing me of a new club that was due to open about a mile from where I was living. The name of the club was the Showboat Lounge, and Sonny Rollins, Freddie Hubbard, and Dizzy Gillespie were among the scheduled performers."

On the first night of Dizzy Gillespie's first week, Ron went to the club armed with a tape recorder. "I arrived  about 45 minutes before showtime, asked where the dressing room was, and headed in that direction. As I approached the room, I realized the door was ajar, because I could hear Dizzy warming up. He was holding out long tones, starting with the lowest notes, and coming up the scale by half steps. When I got to the door, I stood in the frame for a second, Dizzy looked up, and immediately said, 'Whatcha got on the tape?' I said; Mr. Gillespie, this is a tape of myself sitting-in with Sonny Rollins at Howard University. He said; 'Let's hear it!' He patted the chair next to him with his hand, as if to say, 'sit here.' I sat down, pressed play, and Dizzy listened very intently. After he'd heard my solo, he whirled around in his chair, and with all the enthusiasm of a child asked, 'You got your horn? I said, 'No sir, I didn't want to appear presumptuous.' Dizzy grinned widely, and said: 'Presumptuous-- now THERE'S a word!' We both burst out laughing." Ron performed with Dizzy that whole week, and afterwards had a standing invitation to sit-in with the band whenever they came to town. 

1977 continued to be a pivotal year for the young saxophonist. It was in this year that Ron joined alternative rocker, Rootboy Slim's band. Rootboy's band wasn't a jazz group, but it gave Ron plenty of freedom to develop his improvisational skills. Ron would be an active member of Rootboy's band from 1977 to 1987.  The tenure with Rootboy would overlap with a couple of other groups. "I began playing with a funk band called Osiris, which was based on the Washington, D.C. side. Rootboy was based in Takoma Park, on the Maryland side. As if this wasn't enough of a coincidence, both groups wound up getting signed by Warner Brothers. I played with Osiris from 1979 to 1981. In November of 1981, I was off one Saturday night, and went to Blues Alley to sit-in with drummer Norman Connors' group. After the first set, I was on my way up the stairs when I heard a deep baritone voice say, 'I like the way you handled yourself up there!' I turned around to see Gil Scott-Heron coming up the steps behind me! Gil invited me to join his group. In February of 1982, I played my first gig with Gil Scott-Heron at the Bottom Line, in New York City. I was a member of Gil's group from February of 1982 'til June 1989."

Ron had continued sitting-in with Dizzy while a member of Scott-Heron's band. "In June of '89, while performing with Dizzy at Blues Alley, he asked me if I'd like to join his quintet! I responded with a question, 'When do I start?' 'I think you already have,' was Dizzy's reply." Ron toured the world, playing for kings, and dignitaries, appeared on the Johnny Carson, and Arsenio Hall shows, and recorded 2 CD's with Dizzy. Ron was a member of Dizzy's quintet until the passing of the great trumpeter, on January 6th, 1993.

Ron is the recipient of 40 Washington Area Music Awards, two of them for Musician of the Year.

Ron Holloway & Friends - Live at Montpelier  (2002)
Groove Update ( 1997 )
Scorcher ( 1996)
Struttin' (1995)
Slanted ( 1993)

Symphony Sessions 1989
D.G. Live at Blues Alley (1990)
Gil Scott-Heron:
Moving Target; Somewhere Alive in Europe

Radio broadcast:
B. Taylor, Jazz at the Kennedy Center, 1998


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