Archives Center, National Museum of American History

Guide to the Bill Holman Collection


Collection ID:
Holman, Bill, 1927-
Kenton, Stan
Monk, Thelonious
Basie, Count, 1904-1984
Herman, Woody, 1913-1987
Physical Description:
12 Cubic feet
68 boxes

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents
The Bill Holman Collection consists of original music compositions and arrangements, posters, performance contracts and a photograph dating from 1952 to 1999. The collection is organized into two series: Series 1: Music Manuscripts; and Series 2: Photographs and Business Records.


The collection is organized into two series.
Series 1: Music Manuscripts, 1952-1999
Series 2: Photographs and Business Records, 1975-1997

Biographical / Historical

Biographical / Historical
Born Willis Leonard Holman on May 21 in Olive, California, Bill Holman is considered one of the great jazz composers of the last half of the twentieth century. He is best known as one of the architects of the style of jazz defined as "West Coast" and as the major arranger for the Stan Kenton Orchestra from 1952 - 1955.
Holman began playing clarinet in junior high school and tenor saxophone while in high school eventually leading his own band. After serving in the Navy and studying engineering, he chose a career in music instead and attended Westlake College of Music in California from 1948-1950. While attending Westlake, he studied counterpoint with Russ Garcia and one hallmark of a Holman work continues to be the distinguished use of that compositional element.
While performing as a tenor and baritone saxophonist for Charlie Barnet & His Orchestra in 1951, Holman submitted his first composition for a name band to Woody Herman. Originally titled Prez Conference in honor of Lester Young, the piece - which featured solos for four tenors - was recorded in 1954 with a baritone and trumpet introduction and ending tagged on by Herman and re-titled Mulligantawny Stew.
From 1952 - 1954, Holman performed in the reed section of the Stan Kenton Orchestra and there he received international recognition. Within six months, Kenton encouraged Holman's voice as a composer and arranger and he quickly became a principal. His distinctive swinging approach was always evident resulting in songs still beloved by Kenton fans all over the world such as Stomping At The Savoy and Whats New. Taking advantage of his clout in the industry, Stan Kenton facilitated Holman's first recording as a leader in 1954 (Kenton Presents Jazz B Bill Holman: Bill Holman Octet) as one in a series of Capitol recordings featuring Kenton's sidemen as bandleaders. Unfortunately, this was not released until five years later. After returning to the West Coast in 1955, Holman continued as a Kenton staff arranger until 1956 and contributed compositions and arrangements on an occasional basis until the late 1950s.
Upon his return to Los Angeles, California in 1955, Holman B as an instrumentalist, composer and arranger B helped shape the sound later dubbed West Coast Jazz. At first, Holman worked in small groups for others including Conte Candoli (1955), Shelly Manne (1955), and Art Pepper (1957) but in 1957 Holman longed to Amake a statement@ for himself and formed his own big band. The band eventually recorded three albums that have become collector=s items among jazz aficionados: The Fabulous Bill Holman (1957), Big Band In A Jazz Orbit, (1958) and Bill Holman's Great Big Band. (1960) Holman continued to work in small group settings as well recording Jive For Five with a quintet co-led by Mel Lewis and Jazz Erotica (re-titled in CD release as West Coast Jazz) in an octet featuring Richie Kamuca.
In 1960, Holman entered into a twenty-seven year hiatus from recording. However, he remained active in the business and was continually sought out as a composer and arranger for both jazz and popular music. His arrangements for Gerry Mulligan, Count Basie, Woody Herman, and Shorty Rogers, among others, are considered the pinnacle of jazz composition and orchestration. Holman=s occasional forays into film, television and popular music include Aquarius as recorded by the Fifth Dimension and The Association=s Never My Love and Cherish. A long relationship with the Tonight Show band directed by Doc Severinson (1967 B 1992) developed eventually awarding him with his first Grammy award for an arrangement of Billy Strayhorn=s Take The >A= Train.
Bill McKay, the co-owner of a Los Angeles night club Donte's, encouraged Holman to re-form his band in 1975 leading to his legendary rehearsal band which still meets most weeks at the Hollywood Musician=s Union. However, the Bill Holman Band did not record until the release of World Class: The Bill Holman Big Band in 1987, followed by A View From the Side. (for which Holman earned a Best Instrumental Composition Grammy for the title track) in 1995. Although Holman's arranging style matured, his characteristic use of line writing, unison sections, uneven bar lengths, and reference for rhythm were distilled and refined rather than complicated in the interim.
Beginning in 1980, Holman received regular commissions from the WDR band in Cologne Germany including ones for extended works and special programs featuring noted jazz instrumentalists such as Lee Konitz, Al Cohn and Phil Woods. Since 1990, he has been conducting that renowned Orchestra. In 1997, Holman embarked on what has become an annual European trip B as a composer/conductor for the Netherlands Metropole Orchestra B and in that same year recorded Further Adventures with them. Holman continues to work extensively in Europe and in 2001 will conduct orchestras in Sweden, Austria and the Netherlands.
Continually sought after by contemporary vocalists, Holman supplied the arrangements (with the exception of the title tune) for Natalie Cole=s 1991 Unforgettable B a tribute to her father Nat King Cole. He continues to provide settings for elite jazz vocalists including Tony Bennett and Carmen McRae. Holman remains active. In 1998, he received a composer=s grant from the International Association of Jazz Educators. The Bill Holman Band still rehearses weekly and appears periodically in the Los Angeles area. Brilliant Corners: The Music of Thelonius Monk is a big band and arrangers tour-de-force and garnered Holman his third Grammy award in 1997.


Scott Schwartz, Ann Kuebler, and Pam Kirby
Processing Information
Collection processed by Scott Schwartz, 2001.

Using the Collection

Conditions Governing Use
The Archives Center does not own the reproduction rights to the music of the Bill Holman Collection. All requests for performance or publication of Mr. Holman's compositions and/or arrangements should be directed to Bill Holman at 323-466-8809.
Preferred Citation
Bill Holman Collection, 1951-2000, Archives Center, National Museum of American History
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research.


Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Music -- 20th century Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Music -- Manuscripts Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Musical arrangers Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Posters -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Business records -- 1950-2000 Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Composers -- 20th century Occupation Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jazz Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Scores Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

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