Green Valley newcomer David Earl Holt has been in the area less than a year and already he's making music.
The Green Valley Stage Band performed several of his arrangements at the end of its concert season in March.
Holt, 76, has quite an impressive musical background and is credited for playing with some of the greats in the business like drummer Gene Krupa, Tex Beneke, Ray Anthony, Billy May, Tony Pastor, Glenn Gray, Les Elgart and the great Tommy Dorsey.
Prior to moving the Southern Arizona, Holt worked for more than 24 years as director of the Austin Public Library in Texas.
It was in 1991 when Holt retired from the library system that he returned to his musical roots and resumed his earlier career as a trombonist, composer and arranger.
Holt was born and raised in Magna, Utah, a copper mill town where he attended both elementary and high school, graduating when he was 17.
He started playing piano when he was still in grade school, taking lessons beginning in the fifth grade.
"My parents entered a contest and won a baby grand piano which took a prominent place in our small home," Holt recalled. "Both my parents were musical. One very clear memory I have of my mother was the time I woke up from a nap when I was very young and saw her playing the violin. I thought it was sheer magic. In fact, I told her it was the very first time I remember being alive."
Holt's father sang. He described his dad as a "very good" first tenor.
In 1938, Holt's family moved to a farm three miles east of Magna, but the young musician continued to receive music instruction from teachers who came to the farm. One such teacher was Wade Stevens, an assistant organist for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, who also allowed Holt to see the choir's organ with its 38-foot-tall reed pipes.
After two years of piano lessons, Holt wrote his first piano composition.
When his piano teacher took a job away from Magna, Holt's parents had a difficult time finding a replacement who was willing to travel to the farm.
Took up trombone
Holt then asked the school's band teacher what instrument he could really use in the band and the instructor told him, "a trombone player."
"I really took to it and bought this old, beat up trombone from a neighbor for $10," he said. "The music teacher, who had a music store, said I needed a better horn. It was $100 and I pleaded with my parents who bought it for me, making payments of $10 a month until it was paid for."
Holt still has that trombone today.
He started playing the trombone after eighth-grade summer school and soon was good enough to play in the senior high school band where he sat in first chair for the entire four years.
"I was inspired when I heard a G.I. trombonist play Sousa's 'Under the Double Eagle" march," he said. "After I heard him play, I thought, my God, music is supposed to live."
While still in high school, Holt also sang substitute tenor or baritone for his father's male barbershop quartet. He joined the music union at age 15 and played with a high school dance band after basketball games.
During his senior year in high school, Holt played six nights a week with the Roy Palmer Band, the "house" band, at a place called Jerry Jone's Rainbow Rendezvous. He played with Mert Draper's Band at Lagoon during his freshman year in 1946 at the University of Utah.
In the summer of 1947, he took a job with the Murray Jone's Band in Saltair, Utah, where he met musician Roy Olsen who soon left to join Sonny Dunham's Band in New York.
"At Roy's suggestion, I wrote a couple of original songs, orchestrated them for Sonny's band, and sent them off," he explained. "I received a phone call shortly afterward from Roy who told me Sonny liked my charts and made me an offer to join the band and write for them."
Holt, at the tender age of 17, accepted the job and hopped on a DC-3 which landed in Denver, Kansas City, Chicago, and then on to New York in a day and half.
"I was just a farm boy. I got out and told the cabbie I wanted to go to Sixth Avenue and 43rd Street to the hotel," he recalled.
"The other band members eventually showed up, borrowed money from me, which they eventually paid back, and we all went out to hear Miles Davis play. I had never seen anyone place like that before or even been in a club like that. I couldn't even legally have a drink. You could say that's where I got broke into the music business."
Holt said Olsen taught him a lot about the business.
"'He said I should never burn my bridges and I needed to build up a whole crowd of friends, because people move around a lot in bands," he said. "I took his advice, and not only did I work with a lot of bands, I also got invited back to work with them again and again."
Worked with Mel Torme
In 1948, Holt played the famous Roseland Ballroom in New York City with Dunham's band, and then one-nighters at the Commodore Hotel Supper Club with Mel Torme, also in New York. He went on to play the Deschler-Wallach Hotel in Columbus, Ohio, and then performed again with Torme.
In 1949, he joined Tony Pastor's Band, a group that backed Rosemary and Betty Clooney, and played one-nighters throughout New England.
He went on to play for Dean Hudson's Band, a job he got by a "good word" from Olsen. Hudson's band played college dances and country clubs.
Holt eventually returned to Pastor's band and played with them until the band leader was stricken with an emergency appendectomy and Holt lost contact with him.
In 1950, Holt got a call to audition for Gene Krupa's jazz trombone chair. Krupa is considered to be the first drum "soloist." Drummers usually had been strictly timekeepers or noisemakers, but Krupa interacted with the other musicians and introduced the drum solo into jazz.
Holt joined Glenn Gray's Band in 1951, performing one-nighters at both the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tenn., and Elitch Gardens in Denver, Colo. Holt returned to New York when the band members went their separate ways, went on unemployment for a short period, and was hired by Victor Lombardo (Guy's younger brother) to play with his band at the Strand Theater in New York City.
"It was five shows a day and the most money I ever made up until then," Holt said. "I got about $200 a week and that was great back then."
Holt met up with Krupa again briefly, playing one-night gigs and writing for the band at places like Capital Theater in New York and at a resort near Buckeye Lake in Ohio. Because of illness in 1951, Krupa kept a lower profile in the music world, maintaining a smaller version of a big band together through 1951.
Tex Beneke hired Holt in 1952 to join his band and he performed one-nighters at the New York Statler Hotel.
Important phone call
In 1955, Holt got a phone call from Tommy Dorsey's manager.
"It was in the fall and his manager called me and said there was a chair open in Dorsey's Band," Holt said. "I went to my folks and told them that I thought the band business was dying with guys like Elvis Presley and rock 'n' roll coming up. I also told them that this might be my last chance to play with one of the greatest bands ever and they told me to go for it."
Holt learned that Dorsey wanted his trombone players to play in sharps all the time.
"Tommy thought that trombones sound better in sharps and who could argue with that," Holt recalled. "Tommy was the best musician going at the time, and although the trombone is a flat instrument, I wasn't going to say a thing. I was also told that Tommy had an ego and I would have to deal with that, too."
Holt even backed Frank Sinatra with the Dorsey Band when "old blue eyes" walked into a club one time where the band was playing.
While recording in a New York studio with Dorsey, Holt recalled a time when "Tommy dialed the telephone and started talking to someone named Cole."
"He asked this Cole how he was feeling and then said he was about to record one of his songs from "Silk Stockings," Holt said.
"It was then I realized that Tommy was talking to Cole Porter. That was a few months before Cole Porter died. All I could think of is here I am, a kid from Magna, Utah, sitting with all these great musicians and listening to Tommy Dorsey talking to Cole Porter."
Holt went on to finish his education, receiving his BA and MA degrees in music from Brigham Young University and a master of librarianship from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.
He has two daughters, a son and six grandchildren in the Green Valley area. He continues to write arrangements and music from his Green Valley home.
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