"I had been getting more and more into Zoot and hoped to meet him someday," Holman recalled with a nostalgic smile. "Then when Stan was in New York, we had an off night, and Zoot was playing somewhere, and I said, 'I'm gonna go meet him.' I was scared because he had this scowl, a penetrating look that made him seem fierce. I introduced myself, and he turned out to be this gentle guy, really soulful. I never expected that. We had a great time."
Sims and Holman deepened their friendship when Sims joined Kenton for a year in 1953. "In 1953, Zoot joined Stan's band, and at that time, the band was traveling in cars, and he got assigned to my car, which was always referred to as 'the Space Car,' " Holman said, chortling.
From the mid-'50s until the mid-'60s, Holman worked both as a saxophonist in small bands with drummers Shelly Manne and with Mel Lewis, where he was co-leader of the band, and with trumpeters Conte Candoli and Shorty Rogers. But the lack of work for jazz players in the burgeoning studio scene made him place his emphasis on his writing.
"I figured I had to make a choice," he said. "It was either learn four or five other instruments so I could compete in the studio scene, or become a writer. And I didn't consider myself a good enough player that I could make it as a jazz tenor saxophonist."
After recording his tunes with studio ensembles on a few LPs, such as the recently re-released "In a Jazz Orbit" (Andex) and "The Fabulous Bill Holman" (Coral), in 1975 Holman decided to jump in with both feet and form his own band. The band has been rehearsing at the Musicians Union Local 47 on Vine Street in Hollywood almost every week since he started it, but engagements have been considerably less regular. Still, Holman manages to accentuate the positive.
"Well, it's great we made the record" on JVC, he said. "And last month we played at the Monterey Jazz Festival, which was another first. Things that haven't happened before keep happening. And I've talked with the people at JVC about doing another record after the first of the year."
Saying his home life is "super--Gaye and I get along great," Holman seems satisfied with his musical milieu. "My career is pretty much what it is," he said matter-of-factly. "I don't imagine it's going to build a lot from here. I'm just fortunate there are still a lot of jazz bands out there."