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John Hollenbeck drummer


It’s traditional, when paying compliment to drummers, to draw comparisons with the octopus, implying agility beyond the means of a paltry pair of human hands. But when considering John Hollenbeck, the multi-limbed creature that seems most appropriate to invoke is the mythical hydra; for while Hollenbeck is certainly no stranger to rhythmic intricacy, it’s ideas that seem to spring forth like so many heads, two more arising as one falls away.

Hollenbeck is a composer of music uncategorizable beyond the fact of being always identifiably his. A conceptualist able to translate the traditions of jazz and new music into a fresh, eclectic, forward-looking language of his own invention, intellectually rewarding yet ever accessibly vibrant. A drummer and percussionist possessed of a playful versatility and a virtuosic wit. Most of all, a musical thinker – whether putting pen to paper or conjuring spontaneous sound – allergic to repetition, forever seeking to surprise himself and his audiences.

The prolific and unpredictable nature of Hollenbeck’s output has been evident since he first emerged as a leader in late 2001, releasing four completely different albums within a matter of months. Three of them (Quartet Lucy, the duo CD Static Still, and no images, featuring several different configurations) introduced the partnership of Hollenbeck and iconoclastic vocalist Theo Bleckmann, who continue to collaborate in a variety of offbeat settings. Along with keyboardist Gary Versace, they form the Refuge Trio, as boundary-free a small group as one is likely to find.

The last of that initial burst of creativity was the self-titled debut of the Claudia Quintet, Hollenbeck’s longest-running ensemble. Over the course of its seven CDs, Claudia has cemented its reputation as one of the most innovative and adaptable units in modern jazz, so deftly attuned to one another that Hollenbeck’s most dizzying compositional leaps are taken with an air of playfulness and skewed humor. The group was named “Rising Star Jazz Group” in DownBeat Magazine’s 2012 Critics’ Poll, received a grant from the Chamber Music America New Jazz Works: Commissioning and Ensemble Development program to compose a suite which can be heard on 2009’s Royal Toast, and received a grant from USArtists International to travel to Brazil for performances in the spring of 2002 and to Kathmandu, Nepal in the fall of 2013. The quintet was commissioned by the University of Rochester to set the work of Kenneth Patchen as part of their 100th birthday celebration of the groundbreaking poet. Those pieces can be heard on Claudia’s 2011 release, What Is the Beautiful?, featuring vocals by Bleckmann and Kurt Elling. Claudia’s latest release, September, pays homage to a time of year when Hollenbeck seeks the isolation and creative focus of artist residencies.

Hollenbeck has also rethought the big band via his Large Ensemble, which topped the “Rising Star Big Band” category in DownBeat’s 2011 and 2012 Critics’ Poll. The JHLE trades the gale force blowing of most such bands for a multi-hued palette of tonal colors and rich, evocative atmospheres. Both of the ensemble’s releases have been nominated for Grammys, A Blessing in 2006 and eternal interlude in 2009. His large-band pieces have also been recorded by Austria’s Jazz BigBand Graz on 2006’s critically acclaimed Joys and Desires. In 2010, the CMA/FACE French-American Jazz Exchange Program awarded Hollenbeck a grant to develop work with Daniel Yvinec and the Orchestre National de Jazz of France, resulting in the release of Shut up and Dance (Bee Jazz), named as one of the top five albums of the year by Le Monde, and nominated for a Grammy for Best Instrumental Composition for Falling Men.

If these projects can safely be termed “jazz” (at least by those comfortable with the label’s more progressive interpretations), they should by no means be taken as indicating that Hollenbeck’s output is limited to even that genre’s most elastic borders. His growing body of commissioned compositions relate just as obliquely to the “new music” tag, exemplifying his ability to not so much defy categorization as to evolve beyond its necessity. One of Hollenbeck’s earliest appearances on record was as the composer of “The Shape of Spirit,” a work for wind ensemble issued on the Mons label in 1998. The following year he composed “Processional and Desiderata” for wind ensemble and orator (released by Challenge Records in 2001), written for and featuring the voice and trombone of Bob Brookmeyer, with whom Hollenbeck studied composition under a National Endowment grant in 1994.

His piece “The Cloud of Unknowing,” commissioned by the Bamberg Choir in Germany, fit comfortably alongside works by J.S. Bach, Igor Stravinsky & Paul Hindemith when it was released in 2001 on the Edel Classics label, while his 2004 chamber piece “Demütig Bitten,” commissioned by Germany’s Windsbacher Knabenchor, was released on the Rondeau label along with works by Giovanni Gabrieli, Josquin des Prez and J.S. Bach (again). In 2002, his IAJE Gil Evans Fellowship Commission piece, “A Blessing,” featuring Theo Bleckmann’s stunning vocals, was performed to critical acclaim at the IAJE Conference; and in 2003 his IAJE/ASCAP Commission, “Folkmoot,” was premiered in Toronto, Canada. A self-released collection of commissioned works, Rainbow Jimmies, showcased several of his chamber pieces. Hollenbeck’s recent works include commissions by Bang on a Can and the People’s Commissioning Fund; Ethos Percussion Group funded by the Jerome Foundation; Youngstown State University; Melbourne Jazz Festival; Edinburgh Jazz Festival; Frankfurt Radio Big Band; University of the Arts, Philadelphia; and Ensemble Cairn, Paris, France.

Hollenbeck received degrees in percussion and jazz composition from the Eastman School of Music before moving to New York City in the early 1990s. He quickly struck up relationships with some of the leading lights of jazz (Fred Hersch, Tony Malaby, Kenny Wheeler) and new music (composer/choreographer Meredith Monk, for whose works “Magic Frequencies,” “Mercy,” and “The Impermanence Project” he composed and performed percussion scores). His awards and honors include winning the Jazz Composers Alliance Composition Contest in 1995 and 2002; Meet the Composer’s Grants in 1995 and 2001; a 2007 Guggenheim Fellowship; the 2010 ASCAP Jazz Vanguard Award; the top spot as Rising Star Arranger (2012, 2013) in the Down Beat Magazine International Critics Poll; and a 2012 Doris Duke Performing Artist Award. Since 2005, he has been a professor of Jazz Drums and Composition at Jazz Institute Berlin.


It's not an exhaustive list.


other works

The Claudia Quintet: John Hollenbeck with Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Red Wierenga, Drew Gress, Chris Tordini September (Cuneiform) 2013

Frankfurt Radio Big Band/John Hollenbeck with Theo Bleckmann (voice), Kate McGarry (voice), Gary Versace (piano) Songs I Like a Lot (Sunnyside Records) 2013

Blind Date Quartet: Angelika Sheriden (flutes), Ulrike Stortz (violin), Scott Roller (cello), John Hollenbeck (percussion) Blind Date (GPE Records) 2012

The Claudia Quintet: John Hollenbeck with Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Ted Reichman, Drew Gress and special guests, Matt Mitchell, Theo Bleckmann, Kurt Elling What Is the Beautiful? (Cuneiform) 2011

The Claudia Quintet: John Hollenbeck with Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Ted Reichman, Drew Gress and special guest, Gary Versace Royal Toast (Cuneiform) 2010

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble eternal interlude (Sunnyside Records) 2009 Grammy Nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

Refuge Trio with Theo Bleckmann and Gary Versace Refuge Trio (Winter and Winter) 2008

The Claudia Quintet: John Hollenbeck with Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Ted Reichman, and Drew Gress FOR (Cuneiform) 2007

Jorrit Dijkstra/John Hollenbeck Duo Sequence (Trytone Records) 2006

The Claudia Quintet: John Hollenbeck with Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Ted Reichman, and Drew Gress Semi-Formal (Cuneiform) 2005

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble A Blessing (Omnitone) 2005 Grammy Nomination for Best Large Jazz Ensemble Album

The Claudia Quintet: John Hollenbeck with Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Ted Reichman, and Drew Gress I, Claudia (Cuneiform) 2004

John Hollenbeck with Chris Speed, Matt Moran, Ted Reichman, and Drew Gress The Claudia Quintet (Blueshift) 2002

John Hollenbeck with Theo Bleckmann, Dan Willis, Jonas Tauber and Skuli Sverrisson Quartet Lucy (Blueshift) 2002

Theo Bleckmann/John Hollenbeck Duo Static Still (GPE Records) 2002

John Hollenbeck with Ray Anderson, Theo Bleckmann, Rick DiMuzio, Ellery Eskelin, David Liebman, Ben Monder, Tim Sessions and David Taylor no images (Blueshift) 2001


Orchestre National de Jazz Shut Up and Dance (BeeJazz) 2010 Grammy Nomination for Best Instrumental Composition for Falling Men

John Hollenbeck Rainbow Jimmies (GPE Records) 2009

Just Drums II (Drum Compilation) – composer of Bell Song Emerges… (fever pitch) 2004

Jazz Big Band Graz featuring Theo Bleckmann joys and desires (Intuition) 2005

Windsbacher Knabenchor Klangwelten (Rondeau) 2004
composer of Demütig Bitten

Meredith Monk mercy (ECM) 2002
co-composer of the percussion score and line 1, line 2, line 3

Big Band and Chorus of the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra Wake, Awake! (Berlin Classics) 2001 composer of The Cloud of Unknowing

Ed Partyka Orchestra featuring Bob Brookmeyer performing the compositions of Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely, Bill Holman & others Love You Madly (Challenge) 2001 composer of Processional and Desiderata

Todd Lowery Quintet live in Japan with Tom Pierson and Francois Theberge Intuition (Back Street Records) 1999 composer of Ethel

The Claudia Quintet, Bleckmann/Hollenbeck Duo the alt.coffee tapes (Katahdin) 1998

Ansgar Striepens/Ed Partyka Jazz Orchestra Tunnel Vision-Music for Jazz Orchestra (Mons Records) 1998 composer of The Shape of Spirit

Theo Bleckmann and Ben Monder No Boat (Songlines) 1997 composer of title piece


Theo Bleckmann & Fumio Yasuda Mother Goose’s Melodies (Winter & Winter) 2013

Guy Klucevsek The Multiple Personality Reunion Tour (Innova Recordings) 2012

Jürgen Friedrich Monosuite (Pirouet) 2012

Tony Malaby Novela (clean feed) 2011

Theo Bleckmann Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush (Winter & Winter) 2011

Meredith Monk Songs of Ascension (ECM) 2011

Dan Willis Satie Project (Daywood Drive Records) 2010

Tony Malaby’s Apparitions Volalores (clean feed) 2009

Curtis Hasslebring’s The New Mellow Edwards Big Choantza (skirl) 2009

Guy Klucevsek Dancing on the Volcano (tzadik) 2009

Scott Fields Ensemble Samuel (New World Records) 2009

Henning Sieverts Symmetry Blackbird (Pirouet) 2009

Jeff Campbell Trio A Declaration of Optimism 2008

Tony Malaby Cello Trio Warblepeck (songlines) 2008

Mark Wyand Hidden Hill (Sony) 2008

Cory Combs and the Great Plains Ensemble Fairfax (Evander) 2008

Meredith Monk Impermanence (ECM) 2008

Junk Box (with Satoko Fuji and Natsuki Tamura) Cloudy Then Sunny (libra) 2008

Henning Sieverts Symmetry (Pirouet) 2007

Bob Brookmeyer’s New Art Orchestra Spirit Music (Artistshare) 2006 [Grammy Nominated]

Curtis Hasslebring The New Mellow Edwards (skirl) 2006

Scott Fields Ensemble Beckett (Clean Feed) 2006

Dan Willis Velvet Gentlemen (Omnitone) 2006

Satoko Fujii Junk Box (Libra) 2006

Cory Combs Valencia (Evander) 2006

Henning Sieverts with Antonio Farao What’s New (Village Pond Records) 2005

Okkyung Lee nihm (Tzadik) 2005

Fred Hersh Leaves of Grass (Palmetto) 2005

Marko Lackner Awakening (Double Moon) 2005

Richard Woodson The Nail that Stands Up Gets Pounded Down (N/twirp Records) 2005

Larry Porter Songs featuring Barbara Mayr (Organic Records) 2005

Johannes Enders Soprano (Pirouet) 2004

Henning Sieverts Hidden C (Intuition) 2004

Jazz Big Band Graz A Life Affair (Universal) 2004

Jeff Campbell West End Avenue 2004

Rick DiMuzio First Offering 2004

Bob Brookmeyer and Kenny Wheeler Island (artistshouse music) 2003

Florian Ross Trio Blinds and Shades (Intuition) 2003

Bob Brookmeyer’s New Art Orchestra Get Well Soon (Challenge) 2003

Meredith Monk mercy (ECM) 2002

Heinrich von Kalnein blackbird (Peregrina Music) 2002

Ansgar Streipens Quintet dreams and realities (Laika) 2002

Achim Kaufmann with Michael Moore and Henning Sieverts gueuledeloup (Red Toucan Records) 2002

Bob Brookmeyer’s New Art Orchestra Waltzing with Zoe (Challenge) 2002

Cuong Vu Trio Come Play With Me (Knitting Factory) October 2001

Dan Willis Quartet with Larry Goldings, Ben Monder and Drew Gress hand to mouth (A-Records) 2001

Jazz Big Band Graz plays the music of Bob Brookmeyer Q&A (Mons) 2001

Ed Partyka Orchestra featuring Bob Brookmeyer performing the compositions of Maria Schneider, Jim McNeely, Bill Holman & others Love You Madly (Challenge) 2001

Jim McNeely Tentet Group Therapy (Omnitone) 2001 [Grammy Nominated]

Theo Bleckmann Origami (Songlines) March 2001

Matt Moran’s Sideshow with Adam Good and Oscar Noriega Sideshow: The music of Charles Ives (Blueshift) 2001

Florian Ross’s 11-piece Brass Project featuring Eric Vloeimans, Claus Stotter and Nils Wogram Lilacs and Laughter (Naxos) 2000

Cuong Vu Trio with Stomu Takeishi Pure (Knitting Factory Works) 2000

Jazz Big Band Graz plays the music of Ed Neumeister here and there (Mons) 2000

Achim Kaufmann Quartet with Michael Moore and John Schröder double exposure (Leo Records) 2000

Richard Woodson’s ellipsis with Peter Epstein and Aaron Stewart Control and Resistance (Cuneiform Records) 2000

Todd Lowery Quintet live in Japan with Tom Pierson and Francois Theberge Intuition (Back Street Records)1999

Bob Brookmeyer’s New Art Orchestra Celebration (Challenge) 1999

Dan Willis Quartet Dan Willis Quartet (A-Records) 1998

the alt.coffee tapes (Katahdin) 1998

Ansgar Striepens/Ed Partyka Jazz Orchestra Tunnel Vision Music for Jazz Orchestra (Mons Records) 1998

Patrick Zimmerli Quartet The Twelve Sacred Dances (Arabesque) 1998

Frank Rheinshagen Big Band Bitter Wine (Valve Hearts) 1997

Tim Sessions with Randy Brecker, Brad Shepik, Tony Scherr, Chris Potter and Kenny Werner And Another Thing (Episode) 1995

The Eastman Wind Ensemble Live in Osaka (Sony Classical) 1991

The Eastman Jazz Ensemble Spiral Galaxy (Mark Records) 1988