When I think of the abundance of talented individuals I have met in the Phish community, two words come to mind: kindness and creativity.
I had the pleasure of chatting with Holly Bowling, who released her first album, Distillation of a Dream: The Music of Phish Reimagined for Solo Piano, in the fall of 2015.
By the end of our conversation, there was a huge smile on my face. This talented pianist who has worked relentlessly to dissect complex Phish jams and translate them to piano is a shining diamond in our community. Holly exemplifies kindness, dedication and creativity in the music world. She has chosen to donate a percentage of sales of her album to a non-profit organization near to my heart, The Mockingbird Foundation. We are so grateful and excited for donations from our community to continue to assist with providing grants to schools and organizations to ensure music education for children.
Holly’s Phish journey began when she first listened in high school, during the hiatus around 2001. Live Phish shows were not an option during this time, so she, like so many of Phish’s devoted listeners, spent a great amount of time listening. Once the reunion shows at Madison Square Garden and Hampton Coliseum were announced in 2002-2003, Holly became an active live Phish show attendee, seeing most of the 2.0 era as well as many shows in 3.0.
The inspiration to dedicate and focus her efforts on dissecting a Phish jam came from one of the most memorable jams in the history of the song “Tweezer” - the “Tahoe Tweezer.” Holly began learning, practicing and teaching piano by the Suzuki method, so listening to a piece of music and learning it by ear was a natural extension of her musical process. She began by taking segments of the jam and writing down what she heard, transcribing the music into a manuscript book and then arranging it into a solo piano context. Although the “Tahoe Tweezer” was obviously born from improvisation, Holly wanted to study and transcribe the music with the care and attention one would give a symphonic composition, true to its magnificent form.
Holly states her first live performance of Phish’s music, which was held at a San Francisco bar during the 2014 Bill Graham Civic Center run, was one of the most memorable performances of her career as the level of interest, enjoyment, and crowd energy that filled the room was a complete surprise. I happened to be lucky enough to be in attendance that afternoon, and that small place was filled with people of a genuine interest, dancing enjoyment and overall supportive and positive energy. Holly shines as yet another example that we are in fact everywhere, and we are often pretty kick-ass.
During my discussion with Holly we spoke about her album, upcoming tour dates, musical approach, and what may be in her future plans.
The album Distillation of a Dream: The Music of Phish Reimagined for Solo Piano was released in the fall of 2015. I inquired how Holly selected the tracks for her album as the catalogue is so vast and deep! It wasn’t necessarily an easy task. If Holly were to pick the track listing today, it may be different than the current song selection on the album. For any song she is translating, there are certain criteria she is looking for and things to completely avoid. One of the biggest factors is the simple limitation of the instrument itself. For example, the organ is capable of long sustained notes, but that does not translate as easily to the piano. Holly is limited by the piano’s mechanical constraints, and steers away from songs or jams with crucial sections that aren’t a great fit for piano, such as those that are really drum-focused or have lots of fast repetition on the same note (possible on guitar, but limited by the instrument in the case of the piano). When choosing a jam that works well for transcription, Holly listens for a clearly recognizable melodic theme. Jams that focus more on changes in tone and timbre are much more difficult to translate into solo piano music. For the album, Holly chose some slower selections of Phish songs that are rarely played, with harmonies that resonate beautifully on the piano. However, she couldn’t release an album without including certain staples of a Phish diet, notably “Harry Hood.”
Holly has begun performing selections from the Grateful Dead’s catalog as well. She was asked by Jambase to transcribe her favorite performance of “Eyes of the World” as part of the website’s Songs Of Their Own video series and has been including the music of the Grateful Dead in her live shows ever since. These songs are mixed in with her versions of Phish songs, her transcriptions of Phish jams, and a healthy dose of her own improvisation. She posts detailed setlists after every show to help listeners sort out the different elements of the show and to document the origin of the improvised sections.
On Holly’s upcoming tour, she is most excited about playing The Old Church in Portland. As the name suggests, the building was once a church, but is now a non-profit music venue. It is a beautiful old building with amazing acoustics to highlight the baby grand piano and she is thrilled to be playing there. It can be an amazing adventure as a live music goer to experience music in an atypical venue. The venue can certainly set the energy and tone for the show, and for those of you in Portland, OR, I encourage you folks to go live the unconventional, which shouldn’t be hard.
Holly’s upcoming tour schedule is as follows, with more dates to be announced soon. Holly Bowling Tour Dates
Holly plans to release additional music in the coming year, although no official details of a follow-up album have been announced just yet. She has been working a lot on the music of the Grateful Dead in addition to continuing to add to her repertoire of Phish songs and is enjoying exploring the differences between the two bands’ improvisation and composition style. She has also been taking time to work on her own compositions when not on the road and is looking forward to adding in this element.
Holly told me one of the most special stories about another notable performance which occurred at the 2015 Magnaball festival. One of her friend’s presented an idea that Holly should perform her own "secret set" post show. Her friend shipped in a piano she’d bought from Craigslist, and Holly played a concert in the RV campground on the first night. On the third night, Holly stepped up to the plate even further and hauled ass post show to drive the piano through the campground area and did a second show at a friend’s campsite in the “Wetlands” campground. The site had EZ-ups, candlelight, beautiful flowers, and provided the perfect backdrop to what you would want to stumble upon on your way back to your tent, a beautiful piano softly playing music while the audience was introspectively listening to the melodic sounds produced by Holly’s playing while reflecting on the outstanding music that Phish had just delivered. This made me beam for several reasons, mostly because our community should have the goals of kindness, creativity, and the simple desire to make others smile. Go see Holly, and be sure to check out the album Distillation of a Dream: The Music of Phish Reimagined for Solo Piano if you haven’t done so yet!
Album available from The Royal Potato Family: http://royalpotatofamily.com/artists/holly-bowling/
Upcoming tourdates: http://www.bandsintown.com/HollyBowlingHolly Bowling Tour Dates
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March 27, 1993
25 years ago
Set 2: Buried Alive > Halley's Comet > It's Ice > Bouncing Around the Room, Chalk Dust Torture, The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Avenu Malkenu > The Man Who Stepped Into Yesterday > Mike's Song > I Am Hydrogen > Weekapaug Groove, Hold Your Head Up > Cracklin' Rosie > Hold Your Head Up, Poor Heart > Golgi Apparatus
 Beginning featured Trey on acoustic guitar.
 Fish on trombone.
 All Fall Down signal in intro.
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