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Joe Holovnia continues to be an active and integral part of the New England Jazz Scene. A student research team visited his home, performed a biographical interview, and collected materials from his personal photo albums, and solo excerpts from performances with the Joe Holovnia Trio and with Boots Mussulli.

joe holovnia
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joe holovnia

Over the past sixty years, Joe Holovnia has added enormously to the New England jazz scene as a gifted performer and highly regarded educator.

Born in Worcester, MA on September 20, 1931 Joe Holovnia is the third son of Polish immigrants. His musical family includes his two older brothers who are professional musicians: trumpeter/pianist Rich Stanley (Holovnia) and pianist/saxophonist/trumpeter Fred Holovnia.

Joe Holovnia began piano study at the age of 7 with his brother Fred and by age 12 he began formal lessons with his first professional teacher. His own first professional piano performance was at age 14. In 1946, at age 15, he began playing bass and was engaged in professional performance that same year (self taught). He has performed regularly on bass and piano since the mid-1940's.

He was introduced to jazz bass and inspired by the many nationally touring jazz musicians who performed in Worcester venues including the Plymouth Theater. Of special interest to him were such artists as Sam Donahue, Frankie Carl, Chico Marx, Harry James, Gene Krupa and Jimmy Dorsey.

Holovnia furthered his piano studies for 7 years with Roland Provost, an active and respected piano instructor from Central MA and uncle of Dick Odgren, whom he also taught.

In 1947 Holovnia played bass in a sextet with Fred Holovnia (alto and arranger), Bob Simonelli (tenor), Bob Saucier (guitar), Bob Icernio (piano), and Tony Agby (drums/leader) at the Golden Rooster in Westboro, MA. In 1948 began a steady engagement with Ernie Bernard (alto), Fred Holovnia (piano), and Jerry Buller (drums) at the Green Lantern 6 nights per week. In 1950 he played with Harry Ulna in a dance band touring New England ballrooms. Then, in 1954, Holovnia began his long association with Henry “Boots" Mussulli performing extensively with him during this period, especially with Mussulli's big band in Milford, MA.

The 1950's and 1960's were two decades when he was very active playing with Moe Struchetti, Paul Shuba, and Ziggy Minicello as well as Al Cass, Boots Mussulli and George Gregory. At the famed Crystal Room in Milford, MA (owned by Boots Mussulli) he performed with many jazz greats including Serge Chaloff, Zoot Sims, and Bobby Hacket.

In addition, he played with The Fred Hall Big Band (Fred Holovnia, leader) in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s and began experimenting with big band arranging and creating original composition for big band, mixed ensembles and some vocal pieces. He recorded extensively at his brother Fred’s Northeast Recording Studio (Shrewsbury St., Worcester, MA; later relocated to Shrewsbury, MA). During this time he continued to play with Boots Mussulli (especially at the Fox Lounge, Westboro, MA) performing with him until his death in 1967.

Holovnia began building basses in 1959. Since 1977 he has serviced basses as a repair technician. He currently resides in Shrewsbury, MA and continues building basses and performing on piano and bass. He remains a well respected and much sort after teacher.

Joe's son, Mark Holovnia, is a very active drummer and jazz educator who performs with Dick Johnson and the Artie Shaw Orchestra, the Woody Herman Orchestra, the Four Freshman, and Buddy DeFranco. He is also on the faculty for the "Jazz in July" Summer Music Program at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.