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Published - Thursday, February 15, 2001

Jazz great shares thoughts on life, experiences

By Angel Riggs
The Edmond Sun
There is a world outside of tiny rural towns. Beyond the acres of trees and dirt roads, you know life exists if for no other reason than the tunes on the radio were written somewhere.

You often don't realize how little your world is. After all, you usually know who owns the land on the horizon.

But, when you realize the tunes on the radio were written by an out-of-towner, and there are others who want to know you, the world doesn't expand, it develops.

Marvin "Doc" Holladay knows the small-town life.

"Kenute was so small, it was integrated," he said of the Kansas town where he attended school in the late 1930s and '40s. "We couldn't afford to be segregated."

Holladay will speak on "The Evolution of American Indigenous Classical Music: Jazz" at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Edmond Baha'i Center, 321 Campbell Drive.

An accomplished saxophonist, he's performed with Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald among other jazz musicians.

"The talk is a presentation," he said in a phone interview Tuesday. "I play a little bit and I talk a lot."

The presentation is also in honor of Black History Month, and will include information on traditional African music, which is the "root of continuance in the early development of this music they call jazz," he said.

The summer after Holladay's third-grade year, he joined the school's beginning band program, and as a teen-ager was allowed to borrow the family car to pick up a friend a play a gig on Saturday nights.

"I think there was a barbershop and a pool hall on the east side of town," he said. "But there were no restrictions that I knew of."

But, even in towns where everybody knows someone you're related to, you can always find something new.

Holladay didn't believe the world was integrated for long. After one of his Saturday night gigs, he talked the friend into eating at a restaurant in town, he said. It was after his friend was told to pick up his plate at the counter, that he realized what was going on around his world.

The friend already knew what would happen.

"What I experienced there was the experience of a young man who went through what he went through just to show me," he said.

"That was a friendship that I found over and over and over again down through the course of my life."

His book, released last month, is titled "Life On The Fence."

"My life has been on the fence," he said. "I couldn't fall off either way."

A member of the Baha'i faith, he conveys unity and a oneness of humanity expressed in the religion.

"A lot of us (Bahai's) here in the states have found that the traditional patterns or ways or doing things have not really been satisfying," he said. "Consequently we have ended up being the black sheep of our families."

"Most Baha'is are people who were swimming upstream all their life."

His presentation, he said, isn't a heavy religious one. However, he does correlate some of the aspects of the music to some of the Baha'i's teaching, such as the unity of diversity and humanity.

A graduate of the former Phillips University in Enid, he attended the U.S. Naval School of Music in Washington, D.C.

"I've played the symphonies before, but my heart and soul is in indigenous American music," he said.

And a little of that heart, if not just the name, is still in rural America.

"If your name is Holladay and you live in Kansas, inevitably you're going to become a 'Doc,'" he said.

Travel, laced with a little humor, opens your mind, whether you're from Chanute or New York.

"There's a whole lot of people in this world that are different from us," he said. "But you travel around and find out how alike we are."

(Angel Riggs can be reached via e-mail at

©Copyright 2001, Edmond Sun

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