REVIEW: Frank Holder at 90 at Pizza Express Dean Street (2015 EFG LJF)

Frank Holder earlier this year receiving a Lifetime Achievement
Award from the Worshipful Company of Musicians
Photo credit: John Levett / Creative Commons

Frank Holder
(Pizza Express Dean Street. 20th November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Helen Theophanous)

1925 was a very good year, the year Frank Holder was born. At 90 Years of age Frank insists that as he sang in the church choir at the age of ten, he’s been in the business for 80 years.

Holder displayed his individual bebop style and mastery of the congas, deftly slipping between velvet toned lyrics and scatting while leading the band . This set the scene for a gig which delighted with Holder’s unique take on familiar standards.

Above all, his innate rhythm shone through everything, seeming almost to drip through from the top of his head to his fingers and onto the congas. Holder is rhythm whether he is performing a smooth ballad or an energetic bossa. The voice is young and has a softness which is appealing and very easy on the ear with an intimate quality that seems directed to each individual member of the audience.

Clearly the audience at Dean Street thought so as they insisted on an encore of Bye Bye Blackbird which, even after one and a half hours was packed with energy from Holder who appeared to be willing to go on day in and day out. One could not help thinking of the wonderful artists with whom Holder has worked through the decades;the Dankworth Seven, Jiver Hutchinson, Kenny Baker, Duncan Lamont,Nat King Cole, Eartha Kitt, Johnny Ray and many many more .

In Corcovado the spirit of carnival was with us as Holder made the congas do their work and the solos from Geoff Castle-piano, Val Mannix– bass and Shane Hill-guitar sparkled brilliantly. Holder was on top form with his easy stretching of the lyrics and changes of emphasis plus his own vocal “instrumental” improvisation throughout and for me it seemed Holder was completely in his natural element . Dizzy Gillespie’s He Beeped When He Should Have Bopped with its touch of humour deserves a mention as a nod to Holder’s place in the history of bebop. It was because of his improvisation skills that he was introduced to Johnny Dankworth with whom he worked for many years and later with Cleo Laine.

Since arriving in London in 1944 Frank Holder has been an important part of the London jazz scene and nobody is more eligible to be celebrated in the EFG London Jazz Festival .


“Alright OK You Win” (Watts/Richards)
“Too Close For Comfort” (Bock/Weiss)
“Long Ago And Far Away”(Kern/I.Gershwin)
“Caravan” (Juan Tizol)
“Skylark” H Carmichael)
“Lover” (Rodgers/Hart)
“Corcovado” (Jobim / Lees)
“He Beeped When He Should Have Bopped” (D Gillespie)
“All The Things You Are” (Kern/Hammerstein)
“In The Still Of The Night” (C Porter)
“Every Day I Have The Blues”(A&M Sparks)
“Day In Day Out”(Bloom/Mercer)
ENCORE: “Bye Bye Blackbird” ( Dixon/Henderson)

Frank Holder – vocals
Geoff Castle -piano
Val Mannix – bass
Shane Hill– guitar

Categories: miscellaneous

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