Jools Holland PhotoDepending on who you talk to, the irrepressible Jools Holland is best known as a blisteringly energetic piano-pounding performer of boogie-woogie, jazz and R&B; or as the keyboard-wizard sideman to one of the great new-wave pop bands of the seventies and eighties; or as one of the UK's most popular television presenters. And while any one of these accomplishments would be enough for most people, Jools Holland has managed to be all those things in his remarkable showbiz career a career that's seen him work with almost everybody who was anybody on the UK or US music scene from the late 1970's onward.

Julian Miles Holland was born on the 24th of January, 1958 in London. Even as a young boy, he showed a flair for the piano, learning the rudiments of boogie-woogie piano from an uncle at the age of eight. And though never possessed of a classic singing voice, young Jools quickly learned to adapt his somewhat reedy, nasal tone into an enthusiastic Cockney-ish singing style that complemented his rollicking, joyous piano playing perfectly. By his teens, he was playing for pay in clubs and pubs in South London and in London's east end. Then in 1974, while still only sixteen, Holland became the keyboardist for the original line-up of Squeeze, which released their first record in 1977 (the EP Packet Of Three), and their first full-length album the following year. Almost immediately, the band vaulted into the upper reaches of the UK charts with the new-wave hits "Take Me I'm Yours" and "Bang Bang" (both 1978), both of which were penned by Squeeze leaders Chris Difford and Glenn Tilbrook.

That same year, Holland released his solo debut, a 7-inch five-song EP called Boogie Woogie 78, which showcased Holland's penchant for boogie-woogie, R&B and jazz far more effectively than any of Squeeze's much more pop-oriented recordings. However, Holland stayed with Squeeze through 1980, playing keyboards on a series of classic Difford & Tilbrook-composed hit singles, including "Cool For Cats", "Up The Junction", "Another Nail In My Heart" and Pulling Mussels (From The Shell)" (in which he laid down a memorable piano solo). Holland's occasional contributions as a composer/frontman for Squeeze were limited exclusively to B-sides or album tracks.

Finally, in 1980 Holland announced that he was leaving Squeeze on amicable terms for a full-time solo career. He emerged in 1981 as leader of Jools Holland and his Millionaires, a guitar-less sextet that included Jools on lead vocals, keys and good ideas" as well as Pino Palladino (bass), Martin T. Deegan (drums), Mike Paice (sax) and The Fabulous Wealthy Tarts (Kim Lesley and Maz Roberts) on backing vocals. Their lone self-titled album, however, was a flop, despite production by Glyn Johns (The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, The Who, etc.) and lyrical help from Squeeze's Chris Difford. Soon after the album's release, the Millionaires disbanded, although Jools would continue to work with all of them individually throughout the rest of his solo career.

For the next few years, Holland then busied himself musically with session work for the likes of The The, and with a couple of UK solo singles which were eventually collected as part of the excellent US-only release Jools Holland Meets Rock-A-Boogie Billy (1984). Perhaps more importantly, though, around this time Holland also secured a job as host of the seminal British music series "The Tube", which presented both established stars and cutting-edge musical acts every week. A critical and popular success from the word go, The Tube" made the effervescent, enthusiastic South Londoner a household name in Great Britain, and introduced a lot of great music to the world besides.

Then, unexpectedly, Squeeze stalwarts Difford & Tilbrook decided to reform their band in 1985, and asked Holland to return. (Squeeze had continued for 2 years after Holland's departure before packing it in at the end of 1982.) Holland accepted, and by the end of '85, a new Squeeze record called Cosi Fan Tutti Frutti was in the shops, featuring the keyboards of Julian Holland" (as he now billed himself). For the next 5 years, TV personality Holland was again largely a sideman on Squeeze's records, although his piano was unquestionably a vital component in the poppy, vaguely-Beatlesque mid-eighties Squeeze sound. It was during this phase of their career that Squeeze had their biggest US success, the top 20 "Hourglass", and Holland got to play Madison Square Gardens with his bandmates. His musical success in the US was also at least partly responsible for helping Holland to land a gig as the co-host of NBC's Night Music", a live-in-the-studio jazz, blues and pop music programme that had a strong cult following for the few years it was on the air. It later became the blueprint for such popular music shows as Sessions at West 54th".

However, by 1990, Holland was still only being given the occasional album track in which to showcase his prodigious talents, so he once again left Squeeze on amicable terms to resume his solo career. That year, he reclaimed the first name Jools" and released World Of His Own, which mixed up the boogie-woogie with more contemporary sounds and featured contributions from all of his Squeeze bandmates, as well as all of the ex-Millionaires, and his celebrity pal Sting. In 1991, the more overtly swing/R&B themed The Full Compliment followed.

These albums sold respectably, but generated no hit singles: from this point on, Holland increasingly became (in the UK at least) a television personality who also happened to make records, rather than a recording star who also happened to be on television. And while his recording career could hardly be called stagnant, his television career really took off starting in 1992, when he began hosting Later With Jools Holland." This long-running late-night music show featured a dazzling array of musical talent (absolutely everyone from Tori Amos to David Bowie to Rickie Lee Jones to .B. King to The Verve showed up at one point or another), and it was required viewing for any Brit with even the vaguest pretensions towards musical hipness.

Perhaps in order to not spread himself too thin then, for the next little while Holland-the-musician released albums that concentrated on solely on his keyboard playing. These included The A-Z Geographer's Guide To The Piano (1992) and Solo Piano (1994). As well, Holland compiled three CDs that traced the history of different styles of piano playing: Boogie Woogie Piano, Ragtime Piano and Jazz Piano (all 1995). He also continued to work diligently as a session musician throughout the 90s, appearing on dozens of recordings by artists such as Dr. John, Eddi Reader, Marcella Detroit and others.

But by the mid-90's, however, Holland's fame as a television presenter (and his consequent list of celebrity contacts), coupled with his well-earned reputation for top-notch musicianship, meant that he had the clout to tour with (and record big budget albums with) a full scale forties-style big band. Increasingly as the years went by, these albums would also feature big-name guest vocalists. These albums, which covered the gamut from swing to boogie-woogie to jump blues to jazz, were credited to Jools Holland and his Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, and include Live Performance (1994), Sex & Jazz & Rock & Roll (1996), and Lift The Lid (1997 (on which Sam Brown is the featured vocalist on several numbers.) In 1998, a Best Of Jools Holland compilation appeared, with selections from all of his nineties albums to date.

Not slowing down at all as one century led into another, (he was still touring constantly throughout the UK, performing an average of two big-band shows a week as well as hosting Later"), Jools then released Sunset Over London in 1999, which featured guest turns by Jamiroquai and actor Robbie Coltrane, followed by Hop The Wag in 2000. In 2001, the US-based Valley label issued a compilation of tracks from all of Jools' various big-band swing albums called, not unreasonably, The Swing Album; it was his first stateside release in over a decade.

Later that same year, Holland led his big band through an all-star album that featured contributions from Steve Winwood, Paul Weller, Sting, Dr. John, Mark Knopfler and many, many others. Called Small World Big Band in the UK and Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues in the US, the record quickly gained attention for containing the last ever song and performance from George Harrison, who died shortly after the album's UK release. In the US, the record came out in early 2002 to generally positive reviews, although the focus of most of the initial critical attention was on Harrison, not Holland. Ignoring the splash the record made in the US, for the rest of the year Jools continued to tour in his native UK while making frequent radio and television appearances. ~ Rudyard Kennedy, All Music Guide