Holly Holmes
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Holly Holmes

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"Latin Jazz Concert Complements Museum Exhibit"

As part of the Kalamazoo Valley Museum's continuing exhibition on Latin jazz, local jazz guitarist Matthew Warnock and vocalist Holly Holmes will perform at 7 tonight in the museum's Mary Jane Stryker Theater.

The free concert will highlight the talent of the two Western Michigan University-trained musicians. Warnock is pursuing his master's degree in jazz studies at WMU, while Holmes has a jazz studies degree from WMU.

"We knew that there was a very prominent jazz program at Western Michigan University," said Valerie Eisenberg, assistant director for visitor services at the museum. "They're marvelous. They're so talented...It's wonderful to be able to take advantage of the talent in this community."

The performance by Warnock and Holmes is the third of four performances in the series, which is designed to complement the special exhibition the museum has on Latin jazz from the Smithsonian Institution.

The exhibition offers a glimpse into the lives and influences of major figures of the genre, and includes Dizzy Gillespie's trumpet and other important artifacts.

Tonight's concert will include both arrangements of Brazilian jazz classics and standard American tunes by Cole Porter and George Gershwin, Warnock said.

"I think it's a great opportunity to listen to music that [people] wouldn't normally be exposed to," Warnock said of the concerts role in exposing area residents to Latin jazz.

He studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music and at McGill University in Montreal, and now teaches guitar at WMU.

Holmes released her debut album, the Climb, in 2001. Reflecting her varied influences, the CD includes Brazilian music - one of her specialties - and unusual arrangements of jazz standards.

She plans to study guitar for a year in Brazil.

Warnock said Holmes is responsible for putting together the arrangements of the songs the duo will perform, and she will sing in Portuguese.

The two have been performing together about eight weeks at the Union Cabaret and Grille in Kalamazoo's downtown. - Kalamazoo Gazette; John J. VanderMeer, Journalist; 4/16/2004

"Local Singer Continues to make 'The Climb'"

While studying for a bachelor's degree in jazz studies at Western Michigan University, Holly Holmes sang for two years with a 16-member jazz vocal ensemble that toured not only the Midwest, but also Belgium and France.

The idea, said Holmes, who now lives in Urbana, was to create a vocal jazz ensemble parallel to a big band. "It really trained your ears because you have to hear these complex harmonies that you might not find in choral singing," she said, "and you have to zero in on a pitch that might be a half step away from what somebody else is singing."

Holmes felt that being part of the ensemble was a valuable experience. But the group did not emphasize solo work, and she admits that as a listener, she prefers solo rather than ensemble jazz vocals.

She already has tested the local jazz waters. She performs regularly at the VIV Wine Bar in Bloomington and has had gigs in Peoria, Springfield, and locally at the Iron Post in Urbana, where the Holly Holmes Quartet will have a CD Release Party from 7 - 10 PM Thursday evening.

Holmes and her quartet - husband Matt Warnock on guitar, JB Fairies on bass, and Craig Russo on drums and percussion - actually celebrate the re-release of Holmes' debut CD, "The Climb," recorded before she and her husband moved here in May.

"The Climb" features a mix of jazz standards, Brazilian bossa nova songs, and modern classics by composers such as Wayne Shorter and Pat Metheny. Some of the tracks, particularly "Siren Song," for which Holly penned lyrics to Shorter's "Fee Fi Fo Fum," are getting airplay on WEFT-FM radio.

"For this song, I kept to the fairytale idea of Shorter's original title and expanded it to tell a story of infatuation," Holmes said. "For Pat Metheny's delicate ballad, "The Road to You," seen here as, "The Road to Me," I let the intrinsic beauty of his melody speak for itself. The first recitation is a wordless improvisation, followed by an elegant piano solo, and closing with my lyrics."

Holmes improvises vocally on "Siren Song" and "I Thought About You." Few singers, even jazz singers, improvise, or, when they do, they do very little. And while there are plenty of jazz instrumentalists in the Champaign-Urbana area, there are few contemporary jazz vocalists other than Rachel Lee, said Paul Wirth, owner of the Iron Post.

"I like her singing," Wirth said of Holmes. "What I like about Holly is the Latin influence on her music. She actually sings some songs in Portuguese and does it well." Holmes sings in Portuguese on the "O Cantador/Like a Lover" on the fifth track of her album.

As a jazz singer, Holmes wants to concentrate on improvisation and study with an instrumentalist to improve her chops in that area. She also hopes to begin studying for a master's degree in jazz at the University of Illinois, where her husband is working on a doctorate of musical arts in jazz performance.

Holmes, who is 28, grew up in Wisconsin. She was exposed to jazz from an early age, as her father often listened to classical music and jazz. Holmes remembers as a young girl hearing Thelonious Monk and thinking his music was different yet fascinating. As she got older and became more interested in jazz, and she sang in vocal jazz ensembles in middle school and high school. She was really turned on to the art form by choral director Richard Johnson at Stevens Point Area Senior High.

Among the female jazz vocalist that Holmes admires are Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McRae, and Cassandra Wilson. She also enjoys Bjork, an alt-pop-rock-electronica singer from Iceland. She calls them all influences but doesn't think she sounds like any of them. She is often told she sounds like Norah Jones, but Holmes thinks she sounds more like Brazilian singer Elis Regina, who worked often with the late Antonio Carlos Jobim, also a Brazilian musician.

Holmes herself ended up in Brazil soon after graduating from WMU. After discovering that a jazz quartet from her alma mater was to go on a two-week tour of Brazil, she begged to go along. A professor said yes, and even better, invited her to sing with the group.

Holmes, who had already been studying Portuguese, sang some songs in that language while in Brazil. Listeners appreciated that and after one gig, a Brazilian woman struck up a conversation with Holmes and invited her to visit her and her family in Brazil. Holmes later took up the offer, staying there for six months in the cities of Belo Horizonte and Salvador, taking intensive Portuguese lessons and study guitar with a Brazilian guitarist.

Holmes - who said the extended stay in Brazil kindled a love and appreciation for all music - recently entered the track "Siren Song" from her CD in an online jazz vocal competition at www.jazzconnect.com. About 150 singers from around the world submitted songs, which will be evaluated by professional jazz musicians and journalists as well as visitors to the site.

"The Climb" is available at www.hollyholmes.com and www.cdbaby.com/cd/hollyholmes and during Holmes' gigs and at Borders in Champaign. Besides the Iron Post, Holmes will perform on Saturday at the VIV Wine Bar in Bloomington. - The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana, IL; Melissa Merli, Journalist; 12/6/2005

"Warnock brings home show, bride"

Matt Warnock needed a last-minute replacement vocalist for a show. Holly Holmes came highly recommended.

You could say the pair hit it off; they married in September.

"She showed up. That was it," said Warnock, a Sault Ste Marie native.

They perform together in the Sault Wednesday at Loplops from 9 - 11 pm.

Their setlist includes jazz standards and, a personal favourite of Holmes, Brazilian jazz.

Holmes lived in the South American nation for six months and sings in Portuguese.

"It's great," said Warnock of music from the world's fifth largest country. "Brazilian music offers harmonies and strong rhythmic melody," he added.

The Sir James Dunn collegiate graduate boasts a busy daytimer. He began a doctorate of musical arts in jazz guitar at the University of Illinois in May. Warnock, 27, also teaches undergraduate and graduate classical and jazz guitar at Western Illinois University.

His live performances include dates with Holmes and other groups in the American Midwest.

There is a $5 cover for Wednesday's concert or a donation of two canned goods to benefit the hungry. - The Sault Star, Sault Ste Marie, ON, Canada; 12/19/2005

"Featured Artist: Holly Holmes"

Holly Holmes’ recording The Climb is an ambitious and inventive debut, combining standards, modern classics and pop songs. She has a Sheila Jordan-like color and an adventuresome choice of songs in the vein of Cassandra Wilson and Nora York.
“Little Yellow Moons” is the highlight of the recording. This is a gem of a tune by songwriter Bill Caskey. The lyrics coupled with the accompanying accordion and percussion give the performance a warm, coffee shop feel. There are moments when her intonation wavers, but they are trumped by the songwriting and arrangement.

In light of the remarkable English version of “O Cantador” by Andy Bey, I’m a bit hesitant when American born singers sing in Portuguese, particularly with so many excellent Brazilian vocalists around. Ms. Holmes has most certainly done her homework, but I found the English verse stronger.

The jazz lyrical tradition is well honored in Ms. Holmes’ versions of Wayne Shorter’s “Fee Fi Fo Fum” and Pat Metheny’s “The Road to You.” The introduction to “Never Will I Marry” has such a wonderfully tongue in cheek delivery; I caught myself laughing out loud. She explores her range of color and expression the most here. The arrangement of the tune is clever and fresh. Ms. Holmes handles the difficult melody deftly.

The two renditions of Stevie Nick’s “Landslide” are interesting. The melancholy and tender atmosphere Ms. Holmes creates is perfect for this song. The studio version, with prepared piano, e-bow and percussion is true to Ms. Nick’s sentiment while stretching out on its own. On the live version, the instrumentation, using acoustic and electric guitars, e-bow and percussion is truly lovely. The reharmonization feels a bit too forced on a simple song, but the thinking behind the arrangement is really creative.

Kudos to Ms. Holmes for scatting. It’s refreshing to hear a vocalist take chances – it certainly made me listen more closely. The solos have moments that are unsure harmonically and could use shape, but she’s on the right track to the improvisatory and arranging neighborhood of musicians like Dominique Eade.

The Climb is a lovely ride through the expanding universe of the jazz vocalist. The arrangements are attention grabbing while staying true to the compositions. Ms. Holmes possesses a voice that can move through a complex melody with confidence. Her band provides a strong background to her work, never obscuring her as the leader. She has a strong command of her vibrato and uses it tastefully. The Climb serves as an excellent introduction to an ambitious vocalist with a wide pallet and a sure future. - JazzReview.com; Sara Holtzschue, Reviewer; January 2006


the Climb, Holly's full-length debut album, was released independently through Holly's company, a wHOLe MESs o' me Records in 2005. Siren Song and Landslide, among others, have received radio airplay. It is available at www.cdbaby.com/cd/hollyholmes and for download at CdBaby's affiliate vendors, like iTunes, MusicMatch, etc.



Please visit http://www.hollyholmes.com for more audio.

Her debut album, the Climb, reflects Holly's varied influences including Brazilian music (by Caetano Veloso and Dori Caymmi & Nelson Motta), refreshing arrangements of jazz standards (by Van Heusen & Burke and Schwartz & Dietz), including a lovely spin of Frank Loesser’s Never Will I Marry as a waltz, and jazz-tinged covers of popular songs (by singer/songwriter Bill Caskey and Stevie Nicks). She is particularly fond of penning lyrics to modern instrumental jazz standards as demonstrated by Wayne Shorter's Fee Fi Fo Fum, renamed Siren Song with the addition of the lyric. Holly also stays true to Pat Metheny's delicate ballad the Road to You, seen here as the Road to Me. The first recitation is a beautiful wordless solo, followed by an elegant piano solo, and finally closing with the melody, an unorthodox but satisfying choice, with her original lyric. Perhaps most remarkably, Holly puts the jazz back in jazz singer with her imaginative improvisation, executed tastefully on several tracks including Siren Song and I Thought About You. Recorded before the formation of the Illinois-based quartet, Holly was bandleader, co-engineer, co-mixer, and producer.

Holly earned a Bachelor of Music degree in jazz studies from Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, Michigan in 2000. In the fragile fall of 2001, Holmes was awarded an internship with the jazz programming department at Washington DC's prestigious Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. There she assisted with the Dr. Billy Taylor radio series as well as working as an audio engineer for other live performances featuring Nnenna Freelon, Kurt Elling, Freddy Cole, and many others.

In 2003, Holly traveled to Brazil as guest vocalist of a student and alumni jazz quintet representing WMU. The success of the tour inspired her to plan a return trip in order to study Portuguese language and the guitar. In June 2004, Holly was awarded an Emerging Artist Grant by the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo to help make this happen. Holly spent six months living with Brazilian families in Salvador and Belo Horizonte, Brazil and there became fluent in Portuguese. She also studied jazz guitar with Celso Moreira, a well-known teacher, performer, and brother of Brazilian guitarist and recording artist Juarez Moreira. Holly's next recording project will feature works by and inspired by the Brazilian artists she met on this trip.

In 2008, Holly graduated from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana with a Master of Music in Jazz Performance. Holly was the first vocalist to graduate from the U of I with a degree in Jazz Performance. During her two years in the department, she was the featured vocalist of the Concert Jazz Band and performed at the North Texas, Elmhurst, Notre Dame and Millikin University jazz festivals. She was also the featured vocalist of the U of I Latin Jazz Ensemble and performed at the 2008 International Association of Jazz Education Conference in Toronto. In the two groups, Holly premiered compositions/arrangements by Chris Reyman, Carlos Vega and wrote and premiered an arrangement of Edu Lobo's composition "Ponteio."

In fall 2008, Holly began the PhD in Musicology at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. She was awarded the Fulbright Research Grant in 2010 to complete dissertation research in 2011 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil about the musical collective "Clube da Esquina."