From Jazz Camp to Montreux to New York: 'I'm going to see what happens'


Tommy Holladay: "For right now, I’m ready to take my music as far as I can go.”

Like so many aspiring creative artists before him, jazz guitarist Tommy Holladay finds himself amid the bright lights of the big city: New York City.

“I’m just trying to make my living by playing music,” said Holladay, who moved to the Big Apple several weeks ago.

“Most of my musician friends are here, I have some money saved up and I’m going to see what happens.

He brings with him newly-earned chops: Earlier this summer, he was among 10 semi-finalists in a world-wide electric guitar competition for professional guitarists.

The event was held in Montreux, Switzerland, as part of the famed Montreux Jazz Festival.

Holladay, a three-time alumnus of UC San Diego Extension’s annual Jazz Camp, is a multi-faceted musician who enjoys playing pop, rock, blues and “a little” classical.

But jazz is his passion.

“[Guitarist] Wes Montgomery was definitely one of my first influences, but I have a much more contemporary, aggressive style,” he said. “I would say I am more influenced by [saxophone legend] John Coltrane because he can play so sensitively but he also can play so raw, bluesy, and intensely.”


A SOULFUL ORGANIZATION: Mark Holladay (on organ) jams with son Tommy on guitar. On drums is Griffin Kisner, a Jazz Camp alum along with Tommy.

Holladay, 25, is now ready to spread his musical wings. In May, he completed his master’s degree from the New England Conservatory of Music. That followed his undergraduate studies at the Berklee College of Music, another acclaimed Boston music school.

His father, Mark, himself a noted blues organist, couldn’t be more proud of his son’s chosen career path.

“I’m especially happy that he’s starting to fulfill his dream of being in New York,” said Mark, vice president of drug discovery and medicinal chemistry at San Diego’s Ambit Biosciences. “He’s starting to rub elbows with the best musicians in the world.”

As for how Mark’s musical prowess compares with his son’s, the father puts it this way: “He surpassed me at about age 14 or so. He’s got natural talent and a huge amount of determination. He’s worked very hard to achieve his high level.”

A graduate of Scripps Ranch High School, Tommy credits Extension’s Jazz Camp with inspiring him to grow as a musician and composer.

“One of my instructors [Geoffrey Keezer], challenged me to write my first jazz song ever,” he recalled. “I had written other songs in the past, but they were rock.  It turned out to be the first time in the history of Jazz Camp that an ensemble performed a student's song at a recital. The experience of performing my song was very fulfilling. ”

Along with pursuing nightclub gigs and teaching private guitar lessons in New York, he’s also taking a few online classes from Harvard in computer programming.

“I don’t know if I’m going to pursue computer programing as a career,” said Tommy. “For right now, I’m ready to take my music as far as I can go.”

  • Datebook: Mark Holladay’s group, Soul ORGANization, welcomes featured guest Tommy Holladay. Friday, Sept. 26, 9: 30 pm, Seven Grand Whiskey Bar, 3054 University Avenue, San Diego, CA 92104.


Posted: 9/22/2014 12:00:00 AM with 0 comments
Filed under: Guitar, Jazz, Jazz-guitar

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