Red Holloway, saxophonist whose career spanned nearly 7 decades, dies at 84

February 28, 2012

James “Red” Holloway, a noted saxophonist who played with the greats from the big band era through bebop, blues, R&B and modern jazz, died Feb. 25 at a care home in Morro Bay, Calif.

He was 84.

His manager, Linda Knipe, said he died of kidney failure and complications of a stroke.

During a career that spanned nearly seven decades, Mr. Holloway’s versatility and driving swing style kept him much in demand. He performed with Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Lionel Hampton and Aretha Franklin, among others.

He played for jazz fans around the world and performed in Europe in October.


Eric Schneider (l) and Red Holloway perform with the Chicago Jazz Orchestra during a tribute to legendary South Side saxophonist Eddie Johnson at the University of Chicago’s International House in April 2010. (E. Jason Wambsgans/CHICAGO TRIBUNE)

Mr. Holloway’s imposing sound, keening dissonances, fat vibrato and lamenting phrases were his signatures, primarily on tenor saxophone but also on alto.

James W. Holloway was born in Helena, Ark., on May 31, 1927. He came to Chicago at age 5 with his mother, a pianist, and his father, who played violin.

Red Holloway received his greatest tutelage at DuSable High School, an incubator of talent that produced jazz giants such as singer-pianist Nat “King” Cole, singers Dinah Washington and Johnny Hartman, and tenor saxophonists Gene Ammons and Von Freeman.

Mr. Holloway came of age musically at DuSable alongside one of the city’s greatest tenor men, Johnny Griffin, who raised everyone’s game. By 16, Mr. Holloway won his first professional job, playing for three years in the big band led by bassist Eugene Wright, who would go on to become a key player in the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the 1950s and ’60s.

Mr. Holloway joined the Army at 19 and became bandmaster for the U.S. 5th Army Band, according to his Web site. Upon returning to Chicago after his military service, he worked with such jazz eminences as saxophonists Yusef Lateef and Dexter Gordon, as well as a long line of bluesmen, including Roosevelt Sykes, Willie Dixon, Bobby “Blue” Bland and B.B. King.

Mr. Holloway also played for Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Ben Webster and others in Chicago throughout the 1950s. He toured with organist Brother Jack McDuff in the mid-1960s, and after moving to Los Angeles, he began booking the Parisian Room from 1969 to 1984, shortly before it closed.

He was also much admired for playing opposite tenor giant Sonny Stitt in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and he made memorable recordings with Stitt, McDuff, Clark Terry, Carmen McRae and Joe Williams.

— From news services

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