Christopher Hollyday — jazz saxophone prodigy, composer, teacher — wasn’t sure he’d landed in a good jazz town when he moved here in 1996. “I checked the San Diego Reader [for jazz listings]. I listened to the jazz radio station KSDS. I didn’t see much of a jazz scene happening in San Diego at that time, and it was a little depressing.”
Teaching quickly filled his time, though. He directed band at Orange Glen High in Escondido for a year, then transferred to Valley Center High for another 12 years.
“The kids were fantastic,” he emphasizes, “although sometimes I worked 90 hours a week.”
Teaching was quite a gear-change for Hollyday. Buoyed by his older brother Richard Hollyday, a jazz trumpeter, the younger brother made his public debut at 13, in 1983. At 18, he headlined for a week at one of America’s most famous jazz clubs, the Village Vanguard in New York City.
He cut three albums as a leader between 1989 and 1992, with such luminaries as drummer Billy Higgins and pianist Brad Mehldau. But when the country hit an economic downturn in the early ‘90s, Hollyday lost his record deal and turned toward music education.
His first album in 26 years is called Telepathy, and features his favorite local musicians: trumpeter Gilbert Castellanos, bassist Rob Thorsen, pianist Joshua White, and drummer Tyler Kreutel.
The alto man’s very happy with the quintet, and they’re “playing out,” as jazzers say, including a gig on January 12 at Dizzy’s and a free gig February 24 at the Handlery Hotel’s 950 Lounge.
He eventually switched over to private instruction, but he’s frank about the difference teaching made in his busy life.
“People ask me what I do for a living. I tell them I teach life through music instruction. I teach: Dream, prioritize, commit, schedule, and discipline. If you want to be successful as a woodwind player you need to learn how to practice every day.... You have to stay healthy, and you have to love it, and you have to understand that you’re not the only one who’s doing that.”