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Sax player adapts from sitting in to catching on


What goes around comes around, and that's just fine with tenor sax player Ron Holloway of Glen Burnie.

For years, he has built his career partly by asking to sit in, or work, with musicians as diverse as unconventional rocker Root Boy Slim and jazz innovator Dizzy Gillespie.

But after Saturday Oct. 31, when the Ron Holloway Group makes its Annapolis debut at the Maryland Inn's King of France Tavern, musicians probably will be asking to sit in with him.

Actually, "they've already started asking," the 39 year-old musician said. "I must have had about 10 people sit in with me on various instruments -- even a few vocalists" -- since he formed the group last February, he said.

Mr. Holloway said he is pleased to be part of the jazz tradition of helping new performers gain experience in the music. "It's a beneficial arrangement all around, because the more you play in front of audiences and grow onstage, the more competent you become as a performer," he said. "It's like on-the-job training."

Mr. Holloway began his on-the-job training at the age of 19, working pick-up dates all over the Washington area and landing recording contracts with Tom Principato and the Skip Castro Band.

"I felt like a kid in a candy store when night time fell," he recalled. "Sitting in was a very productive practice for me."

He moved from local rockers to Root Boy Slim in the late 1970s, then to fusion artist Gil-Scott Heron a decade later. Along the way, he sat in with legendary jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, who offered him a full-time job in 1989.

Mr. Holloway toured the world with Mr. Gillespie and can be heard on two of his most recent albums, "The Symphony Sessions" and "Live From Blues Alley," for which he also contributed the liner notes.

He took the plunge with his own group after Mr. Gillespie was forced to take time off for health reasons, leaving him and the other members of the quintet with time on their hands. Mr. Holloway said this turn of events left him with mixed feelings, but conceded that "it gave me an opportunity to concentrate on something I had always wanted to do."

For the last 10 years, he had toyed with the idea of forming his own band, he said. "But I wanted to be further along in my own development when I finally made the move."

The Ron Holloway group is now 9 months old. And although i has appeared at the Kennedy Center, a number of music festivals and on local television, it has only two full-time members -- Mr. Holloway and Washington, D.C.-based trumpeter Chris Battistone.

Mr. Holloway works instead from a "data base" of about 7 friends and colleagues -- "and that doesn't include the roadies" -- to reconfigure his group's line-up, depending on the date, he said.

And because the group "has been catching on a lot quicker then I thought it would, it's easier to keep going while I'm still a member of Dizzy's quintet," he said.

In fact, he remains in the Dizzy Gillespie band.

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