Frank Holder (musician)

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Frank Holder
Frank Holder with his Life-Time Achievement Award from The Worshipful Company of Musicians.jpg
Frank Holder with his Life-Time Achievement Award from The Worshipful Company of Musicians
Background information
Born(1925-04-02)2 April 1925
OriginGeorgetown, Guyana, Guyanese
Died29 October 2017(2017-10-29) (aged 92)
GenresJazz / Latin
Occupation(s)Singer, percussionist
Instrumentsvocals , bongos, congas
LabelsParlophone, Decca, Pye, London, Esquire, Metronome, Dawn, BBC discs and Mainstem.

Frank Holder (2 April 1925 – 29 October 2017)[1] was a Guyanese jazz singer and percussionist. He was a member of bands led by Leslie George "Jiver" Hutchinson, Johnny Dankworth and Joe Harriott.[2]


Frank Holder was born in 1925 in Georgetown, Guyana, and served in the Royal Air Force. He sang in various forces groups at RAF Cranwell, including a band led by Geoff Head.[3]

Holder played with bands led by among others Andre Messeder and John Carioca in the late 1940s, appearing with the latter at Churchill's Club London. Holder also appeared at the Feldman Swing Club (now known as 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".[4] Holder occasionally worked in those early days with a teenage Victor Feldman, who was already a gifted improviser on vibes and drums.

Holder recorded early in his career for the major record companies Parlophone, Decca and London Records. He 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, Holder 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 after World War II. In the late 1940s Holder also worked with trumpeter Kenny Baker.

Highlights from Holder's 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 musicians such as Ronnie Scott, Tubby Hayes, Don Rendell, Peter King, Dickie Hawdon, Eddie Harvey, Jack Fallon, Harry Beckett, Bill Le Sage, Shake Keane, Ronnie Ross, Coleridge Goode, Hank Shaw, Tony Kinsey as well as the UK jazz composer and songwriter Duncan Lamont. Holder was also active in the vibrant post-war Latin music scene including working with the Deniz Brothers. Holder's vocal talents were also known to Edmundo Ros, the Trinidadian- Venezuelan musician, vocalist, arranger and bandleader who made his career in Britain.

Holder was represented during the 1950s by the theatre impresario Bernard Delfont and Harold Davison, among others. In the middle of the decade, Holder was approached by the British jazz record producer and Caribbean music entrepreneur Denis Preston to record some calypso records. Holder's records were issued 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 soundtrack single release called "Nor The Moon By Night" with conductor and arranger Ron Goodwin for Parlophone Records. At this time Goodwin was 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. Holder worked closely with the drummer Phil Seamen. In the mid-1960s, Holder jammed and recorded with the Ethiopian musician Mulatu Astatke. The track "Asiyo Belema" can be heard on the compilation New York – Addis – London. The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965–1975.

Holder branched out into variety and cabaret performances, appearing in many countries, as well as at London venues including the London Palladium, Lyceum and Paramount. Holder often gave his time to charity fund raising events as well and maintained 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 1964, Holder was compère for the BBC One series Carnival, working with many artists including Ginger Johnson, Carmen Munroe and Geoff Love with his Orchestra. In that year he also performed for Peter Sellers and Britt Ekland for their wedding party at the luxury Tiberio Restaurant Mayfair. In 1966, Holder appeared with the BBC Radio Orchestra and in the following year Holder was involved in recording project with John Dankworth featuring the actress singer Nadia Cattouse. In 1972, Holder 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 he appeared with the BBC Big Band at Fairfield Halls, Croydon. In 1991 he played congas and bongos on an album by Barbara Thompson's band Paraphernalia entitled Breathless, which also features drummer Jon Hiseman, bassist Phil Mulford and guitarist Malcolm MacFarlane.

In 1994, Holder was awarded the Freedom of the City of London. In 1996, he 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, along with drummer Chris Dagley. In 2003 Holder was a guest on the album Cleo Laine and Laurie Holloway, Loesser Genius, a project that John Dankworth was also involved with. Performances followed with many younger musicians, including singing on Steve Waterman's well received release on the Mainstem label, Our Delight: A Jazz Odyssey, in 2006. Holder also worked with saxophone players Mornington Lockett 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. Other projects have included working with the acclaimed arranger Nick Ingman in conjunction with the Fraser-Myers Big Band and vocal sessions for Carlin Music for the music composer Paul Williams which were mixed at Abbey Road studios. In 2011, Holder 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. Burton Hill 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 American guitarist Howard Alden and Scottish jazz guitarist Jim Mullen. Hill 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, Neville Dickie, Jonathan Gee, Malcolm Edmonstone, Michael Garrick 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 music dirctor 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, Adam Salkeld who has toured with Steps Ahead and guitarist Jim Mullen the latter having guested on Holder's 2006 release I Love Being Here With You.

Until the age of 92, Holder was still performing around London – contributing his unique talent to British jazz. 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 the 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, Julie Rogers and Sheila Jordan, admire Holder's vocal delivery. Holder in 2015 also teamed up with former Matt Monro music director Mike Hatchard, who has also worked extensively with the Dankworth family and the session bassist Herbie Flowers. The current Frank Holder Sextet line up often features Stan Robinson on tenor sax who apart from having a long association with Holder has also worked with the likes of Aretha Franklin, Ginger Baker and the renowned British bassist Danny Thompson.

A keen sportsman, Holder played cricket with both Gary Sobers and Wes Hall, in connection with charity events and as a young man he boxed and sprinted. Frank Holder was a cousin of the actor Ram John Holder. In 2015 Frank Holder won The Worshipful Company of Musicians prestigious Lifetime Achievement Medal in the category of Jazz. Previous winners include Sir George Shearing, Sir John Dankworth, Acker Bilk and Ronnie Scott. On 1 December 2015, BBC television featured Holder in a news feature paying tribute to the longevity of his career as well as the diverse range of showbusiness stars he had garnered respect from.

Frank Holder died peacefully at his home in Carshalton, Surrey on 29 October 2017.


Original releases and re-issues[edit]

Dankworth Seven recordings with Frank Holder available on: Cleo Laine & John Dankworth: I Hear Music Box Set. Re-issue (Union Square Music). Original details of release and label below.

  • Johnny Dankworth - "Lament and Wild Dance" / "Don't Blame Me" (Esquire (E) 5-010). Jimmy Deuchar (trumpet), Eddie Harvey (trombone), Johnny Dankworth (alto saxophone), Don Rendell (tenor saxophone), Bill LeSage (piano), Eric Dawson (bass), Tony Kinsey (drums), Frank Holder (vocals). London, England, 14 October 1950
  • Johnny Dankworth Seven. Eddie Blair (trumpet), Eddie Harvey (trombone), Johnny Dankworth (alto saxophone), Don Rendell (tenor saxophone), Bill LeSage (piano), Eric Dawson (bass), Eddie Taylor (drums), Frank Holder (vocals -1). London, England, 4 March 1952.

1. RLP-276 "I've Got You Under My Skin", Esquire (E) 5-060

EP releases
Later albums
  • Samba Samba, Paz featuring Frank Holder, 1997 (Saxology)
  • Carousel, 2002 (Mainstem)
  • The Artistry of Frank Holder, 2005 (Mainstem)
  • Born To Swing, Frank Holder with The Geoff Castle Trio 2005
  • I Love Being Here With You, 2006 (Mainstem)
  • Boss, Frank Holder and the Fraser-Myers Big Band 2007
  • Ballads, Blues and Bop, 2009 (Mainstem)
  • "Interpretations Frank Holder Shane Hill, 2012

Notable compilations[edit]


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

External links[edit]