Today, May 31st, would have been his 88th birthday – and I must say that I didn’t know him well, but he was a favorite of mine. And he might be a hidden favorite of yours. He was a side man to many headliners and an incubator for some of today’s biggest jazz headliners. Here’s my best Red Holloway story – I hope you enjoy it.
Back in the 1990’s my husband and I had the privilege of going on a Joe William’s Jazz Cruise aboard the SS Norway. The entire ship became a city of floating jazz clubs. I was in heaven. It was as close to being in Harlem during the heyday of big jazz clubs as you can ever get.
Illinois Jacquet and his band played in the Checkers Cabaret; an intimate show lounge with abstract chrome palm trees around the columns, red lacquered wall panels, his brass players filling up the most of the black-and-white checker board dance floor.
Club International, had cream colored walls and baby-blue wall niches in each corner holding crystal encrusted Neptune statues. Rattan lounge seating, sofas, and potted ferns, gave the room an overall Miami art-deco feel. The baby grand piano was used during the day for practice and at night for the serious jazz of Art Belson and Joe Williams.
Willie Pickens, Clark Terry and Red Holloway, played deep into the nights in the North Cape Lounge, a room near the back of the ship.
Like any city, there were encounters with the performers that occurred as you were going about daily life. It became common to bump into performers in the photo gallery while you looked through the hundreds of shots taken and developed by the ships photographers. For some reason, Red Holloway and I kept bumping into each other, sometimes as often as two or three times a day, in the confines of the narrow gallery.
What most folks didn’t know was that Red was the consummate joker, always ready with a one-liner. He and Clark Terry would do these comical rewrites of classic tunes that would put you in stitches. For me, the most memorable was their version of Pennies from Heaven. In it, they changed every mention of Pennies to a boy’s name, Benny. Then they changed the lyrics to argue that Benny had no terrestrial father. They explain fervently that somehow, Benny had come from Heaven! And it made sense, if you could stop laughing. Or suspend your belief that was could be the mailman, the butcher or the garbage man? The result is hilarious, leaving the audience in stitches while delivering some of the best jazz possible.
After one such set, in one of my unscheduled meetings with Red in the photo gallery, he moved in close to me, and seeing that I had noticed him, he turned to get closer to my ear, with a big mischievous smile whispered, “If we keep meeting like this, your husband will kill us!”
In true Patti Austin fashion, I moved in close, put my hand on his forearm to reply in a low conspiratorial whisper.
“Red, honeychild,” I hesitated to make sure he was looking me in the eyes before I delivered my punchline, “He might kill you, but baby, I can cook!”
Thanks to John Penny for the picture of Red as I remember him – with a sax in his hand, laughing.
For more about James ‘RED’ Holloway – Read John’s blog post at http://amrf.edictspaces.com/index2.asp?NGuid=07EAA86723EA46929AA9F90801AD3349 or just Google him