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Jazz Bassist Major Holley Dies

October 26, 1990 GMT

NEW YORK (AP) _ Jazz bassist Major ″Mule″ Holley, who performed with a long list of musical greats including Duke Ellington, Woody Herman, Ella Fitzgerald and Benny Goodman, has died of a heart attack. He was 66.

Holley, a Detroit native, died Thursday night at a friend’s home in suburban Maplewood, N.J., according to his brother, Oscar Holley.

″He had just returned from Germany where he did some one-nighters and was scheduled to play on a cruise ship next week,″ his brother said in a telephone interview from Detroit. ″He took ill on the plane and died two days later.″

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Holley, who had an apartment and music studio in Manhattan, was a protege of jazz great Slam Stewart.

Born Major Quincy Holley Jr., Holley’s musical inspiration came from his father, who was a bass singer.

Holley began playing the violin at age 7 and learned the tuba and every other wind-related instrument in the bass family as well as piano during a 1940s stint in the Navy. That’s also where he got his nickname.

Oscar Holley said his brother was in the Navy with Clark Terry and as part of a band he used to carry all the instruments. ″Clark told him he looked like a pack mule and the name just stuck.″

Holley’s first professional gig was in San Diego in 1946 where he performed in an ensemble led by saxophonists Wardell Gray and Dexter Gordon. He moved to New York after getting out of the service.

He went on to perform with a long list of music greats including Charlie Parker, Art Tatum, Fitzgerald, the Kenny Burrell Trio, Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Rose Murphy, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn.

″You name it and he played with them,″ Oscar Holley said.

He also performed ″Mack the Knife″ on Frank Sinatra’s 1986 ″L.A. Is My Lady″ album, at the invitation of record producer Quincy Jones.

He taught at Berklee College in Boston from 1967 to 1970 and toured Europe with the Kings of Jazz in the mid-70s.

In a 1987 newspaper interview, Holley said he was not a jazz pioneer.

″I’ve just continued trends. When I was in Duke Ellington’s band, I sounded like Duke’s bass players. I remained applicable to the circumstances of where I was - whether it was Coleman Hawkins or a Broadway show or Judy Collins.″

Holley, who was not married, is survived by five sisters and three brothers.

A funeral will be held Oct. 31 in Detroit.

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