Frank Holder (musician)

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Frank Holder (born 2 April 1925) is a Guyanan jazz singer and percussionist. He was a member of the Johnny Dankworth band and played with Joe Harriott.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Frank Holder was born in 1925 in Georgetown, Guyana and served in the Royal Air Force.[2]

Frank Holder played at the 100 Club in London, owned by the Feldman brothers. Holder recalls, "At Feldman's, a black man would be accepted when you couldn't appear at clubs like the Mayfair or Embassy. Black guys like Coleridge Goode and Ray Ellington were welcome, and all that mattered to Robert and Monty Feldman was that you were a musician."[3] Holder occasionally worked in those early days with a teenage Victor Feldman who was already a fantastically gifted improvisor on vibes and drums.

Holder recorded early in his career for the major record companies Parlophone, Decca and London Records. Holder is perhaps best known for his work in the early 1950s with The Dankworth Seven, led by John Dankworth which often topped the Melody Maker Jazz Charts. However, he is also regarded as one of the leading black UK jazz musicians to emerge from the mid-1940s swing dance band movement, having got his big break with a band led by Jiver Hutchinson during World War II. In the late 1940s Holder also worked with trumpet player Kenny Baker.

Highlights from his Dankworth days include an appearance at the Royal Albert Hall on the same bill as Nat King Cole. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Holder toured, recorded and performed with the likes of Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, Joe Harriott, Don Rendell, Peter King, Dickie Hawdon, Eddie Harvey, Jack Fallon, Harry Beckett, Bill Le Sage, Shake Keane, Ronnie Ross, Coleridge Goode, Hank Shaw as well as the UK jazz composer and songwriter Duncan Lamont.

Also in the mid-1950s, Holder was approached by the British jazz record producer and caribbean music entrepreneur Denis Preston to record some Calypso records. Holder's records sold well on the PYE Label. In the late 1950s, Kenny Graham and His Orchestra also recorded with Holder for Decca Records, engineered by Joe Meek. Other recordings from this period include percussion sessions for Cab Kaye and a film sound track single release called "Nor The Moon By Night" with conductor and arranger Ron Goodwin for Parlophone Records. Goodwin was at this time working closely with producer George Martin, who was also greatly involved with the Parlophone label output. In 1957 Holder polled number 6 in the Melody Maker Readers Poll Charts for best male vocalist and also number 11 in a separate instrumental chart for his bongo playing. In 1959 he contributed percussion to the Joe Harriott album Southern Horizons, released in 1960. Also in the mid-sixties Holder jammed and recorded with the Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke. A track can be heard on the compilation New York – Addis – London. The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965–1975.

Holder later branched out into variety and cabaret performances, appearing in many countries, as well as at famous London venues, including the London Palladium, Lyceum and Paramont. This period saw him on the same bill as the likes of Tommy Cooper, Eartha Kitt and other celebrities of the day – often giving his time to charity fund raising events as well as maintaining a busy roster of performances. Later bills were shared with Bill Haley and his Comets, Guy Mitchell and Johnnie Ray. In 1963 he appeared at the National Jazz and Blues Festival held at Richmond. In 1966 Holder appeared with The BBC Radio Orchestra and in 1972, he was one of the winners of the Castlebar Song Contest, for the folk ballad, "Song for Jenny", composed by Sheila Roberts.

In 1974 Holder was invited to sing with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra at a Royal Albert Hall Promenade Concert with the soprano Margaret Gale and the BBC Chorus. In 1990 Holder appeared with The BBC Big Band at The Fairfield Halls Croydon. In 1991 Holder played congas and bongos on an album by Barbara Thompson's band, Paraphernalla, called Breathless which also features drummer Jon Hiseman, bassist Phil Mulford and guitarist Malcolm Mac Farlane. In 1994 Holder was awarded the Freedom of the City of London. In 1996 Holder guested on Latin/Jazz and Flamenco guitarist Eduardo Niebla's album I Can Fly Now playing both congas and bongos. He has been a long-standing member of the UK Latin jazz band Paz and was featured on the band's tenth studio album Samba Samba in 1997, with drummer Chris Dagley also featured on kit. Performances followed with many younger musicians including saxophone players Mornington Lockett, Gilad Atzmon and Dave O'Higgins. O'Higgins would also appear on Holder's album Ballads Blues @ Bop, listed as one of Jazz Journal's top ten best albums for 2009. Reeds player and band leader Pete Long also featured Holder in his Gillespiana Be-Bop Orchestra, a band that paid tribute to the music of Dizzy Gillespie.In 2010 Holder did a double bill at Ronnie Scott's with vocalist Juliet Kelly. In 2011 he performed at the gala jazz event: A Tribute to John Dankworth and the Big Band held at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, in an ensemble that featured the cream of British jazz associated with Dankworth's musical legacy. The sax section included Tim Garland, Jamie Talbot and Andy Panayi. In 2012 Holder was interviewed by Clemency Burton Hill and appeared as a result of this interview in a BBC Two Culture Show documentary called Swinging into The Blitz, a programme exploring the history of Black Music in the UK from the 1930s. She cited Holder as a rare survivor and important connection to the early swing legends, including Ken Snakehips Johnson and Leslie" Jiver" Hutchinson. The documentary was also commissioned by the BBC to contextualise the black music scene explored in the Stephen Poliakoff television drama, Dancing on the Edge that portrayed a fictional successful black band leader called Louis Lester.

Subsequently, Holder has collaborated with guitarist Shane Hill who has appeared with the likes of USA guitar virtuoso Howard Alden . Hill, who was mentored by Tal Farlow and Adrian Ingram, also produced the CD Interpretations – Frank Holder and Shane Hill. Saxophonist Peter King, flugelhorn player Dick Pearce and violinist Peter Cook guest on the album. Bassist Val Manix – who was an early member of the band Jazz Warriors and has worked with jazz saxophonists Scott Hamilton, Courtney Pine and Don Weller also guests. Drums were played by Noel Joyce – whose playing with guitarist Nigel Price and organist Ross Stanley had impressed Hill when he was looking for the album line-up. Holder has appeared with many leading pianists throughout his career, including Pat Smythe, Tony Lee, John Critchinson, David Newton, Jonathan Gee, Malcolm Edmonstone and Geoff Castle, in 2012 Holder performed with pianist Derek Paravicini in a show dedicated to the music of George Shearing. Former Blue Mink member and Watermill Jazz Club founder, Ann Odell, was both MD and arranger for the show. Lady Shearing endorsed the show. Other guitarists Holder has appeared or recorded with include: Acoustic Alchemy founder member Simon James and the legendary Scottish Jazz master Jim Mullen the later having guested on Holder's 2006 release I Love Being Here With You.

At the age of 89 Holder was still performing in and around London – contributing his unique talent to British jazz, as he has done for the past 70 years. In 2013 Holder was featured in the annual vocal summit of the London Jazz Festival along with Joe Stilgoe and Theo Jackson. The event represented three generations of UK based jazz singers and was a sell out. Holder has also shared his approach to singing and voice preservation in an article for The Voice Council Magazine in April 2014 edition. Holder has also often performed at The Stables in Wavendon being united with the Dankworth family for their Christmas music parties and working with such players as trombonist Mark Nightingale and trumpeter Guy Barker. Saxophonist Soweto Kinch and many singers including Cleo Laine, Katie Melua Tina May and Sheila Jordan, admire Holder's vocal delivery.

A keen sportsman Holder has played cricket with both Garry Sobers and Wes Hall, in connection with charity events and as a young man he boxed and sprinted. Frank Holder is a cousin of the actor Ram John Holder.


  • Ballads Blues and Bop
  • The Artistry of Frank Holder
  • Interpretations Frank Holder Shane Hill
  • I Love Being Here With You
  • Samba Samba Paz featuring Frank Holder
  • Carousel


  1. ^ Gardner, Mark. "Frank Holder High on life". Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  2. ^ "SUNDAY JAZZ LUNCH! Frank Holder & Juliet Kelly + Geoff Castle Trio". Retrieved 18 February 2013. 
  3. ^ Feldman, Barbara (16 September 1995). "100 Oxford Street". (London). Retrieved 17 February 2013. 

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