Christopher Hollyday is uniquely prepared to advise the upcoming generation of young jazz players. He earned the designation of “Young Lion” three different times before reaching the age of 21 back in Boston, where he was mentioned in the same breath as Wynton Marsalis and Marcus Roberts in the early 80s. He’s got mixed feelings on the experience.
“Looking back, there was too much talk about how young I was, you know ‘the youngest cat to play the Village Vanguard’ instead what I brought to the music. One thing we all had in common was being dead serious about the music.”
That seriousness led to a record contract with a major label (RCA Novus) and other niceties, but by 1992, Hollyday’s contract and options were narrowing.
“I had played on the road, I had played with the masters and I had made four albums as a leader, but I knew I wanted to shift gears and establish a career in music education. After I got my degree at Berklee, I figured I could start that career in San Diego just as easily, so I moved here in 1996.”
He taught band for 14 years in the North County before coming to an important revelation. “When a student would suddenly ‘get it’ that would be a priceless moment. But it took every minute of my time, and because of that, I wasn’t playing the saxophone, and eventually, as the years flew by, other educators convinced me that my value as a teacher actually increased when people could see me onstage.”
So he quit five years ago to teach privately and reenter the performance world. He’s at it five days a week seeking to impart some of the focus with which he approached life as a kid with perhaps a little more balance. “I didn’t do anything as a kid but listen to music and practice,” says Hollyday. “I barely got into college, because I had some pretty low grades . That’s very hard to do these days. I was blessed to grow up in a musical house. My dad and my brother were both musicians and we talked about jazz at the dinner table every night.”
Hollyday recently finished Telepathy, his first album in 25 years, and will be appearing with Charles McPherson and Gilbert Castellanos at Bird on the Bay, on August 9.