Red Holloway, a tenor and alto saxophonist who was one of Los Angeles’ most highly regarded jazz artists for more than four decades, died Saturday in San Luis Obispo. He was 84.
The cause was kidney failure, complicated by several strokes, according to family spokeswoman Linda Knipe.
Holloway’s career reached from the post-World War II arrival of bebop to 21st century jazz fusion. Whatever genre he played, the powerful muscularity of his sound, combined with his propulsive sense of swing, consistently made him one of the most listenable tenor saxophonists in jazz.
His creative focus was enhanced by far-reaching versatility. “Music to me is music,” he told Jazz Journal International some years ago. “I really don’t care what kind it is. I just try and figure out how I can make that particular type of music swing. That’s what is important.”
Holloway had already affirmed that viewpoint early in his career, when he played with an A-list of artists covering the full gamut of jazz -- from Sonny Rollins and Lester Young to Red Rodney, Lionel Hampton and dozens of others.
His capacity to enhance his style with lyrical expressiveness also made him a favorite companion to singers such as Etta James, Joe Williams, Carmen McRae and Jackie Ryan.
James W. Holloway was born May 31, 1927, in Helena, Ark. His mother was a pianist and his father played violin. He and his mother moved to Chicago when Holloway was 5, where, at his mother’s insistence, he began piano lessons, supplementing them with banjo and harmonica.
After taking up the tenor saxophone at the age of 12, Holloway played his first job as a professional musician in 1943 with bassist Eugene Wright’s Dukes of Swing. At 19, he joined the U.S. Army, eventually serving as headmaster of the U.S. Fifth Army Band. When he was discharged from the service, Holloway returned to Chicago, frequently playing with such artists as Roosevelt Sykes, Willie Dixon and B.B. King. And his intimate understanding of the subtleties of the blues always remained an essential part of his music.
In the early ‘60s, he began to achieve visibility with the wider jazz audience via a 21/2-year run with organist Jack McDuff, working alongside newly arrived guitarist George Benson.
Holloway moved to Los Angeles in 1967. Two years later he played in the house band at the famed jazz club the Persian Room. He retained the position for 15 years, meeting and often performing with some of the biggest names in the jazz world. From 1977 to 1982, Holloway was teamed with veteran bop alto saxophonist Sonny Stitt, recording a pair of albums together. In addition to more than a dozen albums under his own name, he recorded with McDuff, Clark Terry, Plas Johnson, Horace Silver, George Benson and John Mayall.
In the mid-'60s, Holloway moved to the Central California coastal town of Cambria, where he ran unsuccessfully for mayor in 2004. From the early ‘90s until this year, he played a prominent role in the town’s Famous Jazz Artist Series.
He received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Los Angeles Jazz Society in 2004.
Holloway, who was divorced, is survived by sons Michael and John; daughters Lianne Holloway, Marsha Aregullin and Denice Holloway-Rivers; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. A third son, James “Binkey” Holloway, died in 1995.