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Renowned jazz bassist joins ASU's jazz studies faculty

Headshot of Corcoran Holt.

Corcoran Holt

July 06, 2023

International jazz artist Corcoran Holt is joining the Arizona State University School of Music, Dance and Theatre faculty as assistant professor of jazz bass.

“We are thrilled to have attracted an artist of Corcoran Holt’s caliber to the ASU jazz program,” said Heather Landes, director of the ASU School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “He brings a wealth of experience as a jazz artist and composer, and a commitment to community engagement, which we know will have a profound effect on our students for many years to come.”

Holt began playing the djembe, a rope-tuned skin-covered goblet drum, and other West African percussion at the age of 4 as a member of Wo'se Dance Company under the tutelage of Baba Aidoo Holmes and Mahiri Edwards.

Holt said he felt called to the bass at age 10 and began his study of upright bass with the renowned DC Youth Orchestra. Soon after, he learned that his great-grandfather, who grew up in High Point, North Carolina, was a bass player and lived next door to acclaimed jazz great John Coltrane. Holt said legend has it that his great-grandfather gave Coltrane music lessons when he was very young.  

As a working musician for more than 20 years, Holt believes his professional career is a great tool for jazz education.

“I'm excited to share the things that I have learned with the students at ASU,” Holt said. “There are people who work in educational settings that have not necessarily experienced the life of a performing musician that I have experienced for so long. I am eager to share the different techniques that I have learned on my instrument and also the business of being a professional musician.”

Being able to study this genre of music at the schools he's attended has been an amazing experience, Holt said, in addition to being a working musician.

Holt said he remembers how inspired he was in his teenage years and into his 20s, and how important it was that he had the proper mentors and teachers to help him. He became interested in teaching when he served as a jazz ambassador teaching master classes throughout the Middle East as part of an education program with the U.S. State Department and Jazz at Lincoln Center. The following year, he was part of the Rhythm Roads tour to East Africa with the U.S. State Department.

“I always knew that I wanted to give back in that sort of way when the opportunity came,” Holt said. “And now, I feel my education, training and classroom performance experience can contribute to the School of Music, Dance and Theatre and the community at ASU."

Holt was familiar with ASU’s jazz program because he followed Lewis Nash, professor of practice in jazz, for many years.

“As I started to research the school, I loved the progressive state of mind that seems to flow through the faculty,” he said. “I am eager to be a part of a team of progressive faculty and way of thinking at ASU, and leading the next generation of young artists. I am really excited and extremely thankful for the opportunity.”

Holt performs regularly at many of the top music festivals and venues around the world, including the North Sea Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Newport Jazz Festival, the Village Vanguard, the Blue Note and Dizzy's Club Coca Cola. He has also performed globally with many of the great legends and rising artists in jazz.

He still plays the djembe and serves as a djembe drummer/music therapist at the Greater Harlem Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.

Holt’s debut solo album “THE MECCA” pays homage to his Washington, D.C., roots and features an original song, “14th Street Bounce,” dedicated to the street where he grew up and where most of the jazz clubs were located. 

Currently, Holt leads his own group and is the regular bassist in the Grammy-nominated Kenny Garrett Quintet. More recently, Holt performed with Garrett and other renowned artists in an  NPR Tiny Desk Concert as part of the celebrations honoring Garrett as the recipient of the 2023 National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award.

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