An acclaimed, ever-evolving jazz bassist, Dave Holland is a gifted improvisor and composer whose work has touched on acoustic post-bop, avant-garde jazz, and fusion. Along with his contemporaries Eddie Gómez, Miroslav Vitous, and Barry Guy, Holland helped refine and extend the melodic possibilities of the acoustic double bass. Building upon the innovations of slightly older players (Scott LaFaro, Gary Peacock, Barre Phillips), Holland emerged in the late '60s playing with Miles Davis' electric ensemble, and helped carry the acoustic double bass to yet another new level of creativity. In Holland's case, those refinements never lost touch with the core verities of straight-ahead jazz; his sense of swing is unexcelled. Additionally, following in Charles Mingus' footsteps, he gained respect as a composer, issuing landmark albums like 1972's Conference of the Birds and working with esteemed players Kenny Wheeler, Steve Coleman, Anthony Braxton, and others. Many accolades followed, including a Grammy award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance, Individual or Group for his contribution to vibraphonist Gary Burton's 1999 album Like Minds. He has also won Grammy awards for his big-band albums, including 2002's What Goes Around and 2005's Overtime. He has continued to move between large- and small-group projects, issuing albums like 2010's Grammy-nominated octet effort Pathways, 2018's quartet album Uncharted Territories and 2020's trio work Without Deception.
Born in 1946 in Wolverhampton, England, Holland started playing ukulele at the age of four, switching to guitar at ten and bass guitar at 13. He took some piano lessons as a child, but was at first mostly self-taught, learning from pop music songbooks and by listening to the radio. He played in dance bands with friends. As a teenager he decided to try to make a living as a musician. Under the influence of such jazz bassists as Leroy Vinnegar and Ray Brown, Holland took up the double bass, learning primarily by playing along with records. He began playing professionally shortly thereafter. One of his first gigs was in a big band that toured behind the singer Johnny Ray. Holland studied with James E. Merritt, the principal bassist with the London Philharmonic, who recommended him to the degree program at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama.
At Guildhall, Holland gained experience in a variety of styles, from orchestral music to New Orleans jazz to bebop and beyond. In 1966, he began playing with many of the musicians with whom he would collaborate over the next two decades: musicians like trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, saxophonist John Surman, and pianist John Taylor who were well in tune with jazz innovations of the time. Holland acknowledges being influenced by Mingus, LaFaro, Jimmy Garrison, and Gary Peacock at this point in his career. He also became interested in many 20th century classical composers, especially Béla Bartók. Holland played London clubs with England's top jazz musicians, as well as visiting dignitaries like Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Joe Henderson. In July of 1968, Miles Davis heard him at Ronnie Scott's and asked him to join his band.