Rich Jazz Sounds Impress Judges and Audiences Alike

Buddy Rich, often referred to as the world’s greatest drummer, died in 1987, but his musical influence continues today in Johnson County.

Shawnee Mission Northwest sophomore Sophia Hollman, without hesitation, blurts out, “Buddy Rich,” when quizzed about the origin of her musical interest. And because of recent successes and current direction of Hollman’s musical endeavors, someday Hollman, who plays tenor saxophone, could be the one influencing young musicians.

“Upon working with Sophia, I immediately found her to be artistically gifted, a creative thinker and possessing a constructive attitude,” says Chris Burnett, the American Jazz Museum’s marketing communications manager and a professional sax player.

“Sophia possesses a rare combination of discipline, intellect and the ability to remain calm in high-pressure performance situations,” adds Bill McKemy, the Museum’s education manager.

That rare combination was demonstrated on the main stage last October at the 18th & Vine Jazz and Blues Festival. Hollman performed with the Metro Jazz Workshop Honors Combo. It was her first performance with the group and her first time performing on a gigantic stage yet she showed no outward signs of intimidation. Hollman delivered a top-notch performance. “She seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience,” says McKemy.

If there’s a musical workshop, expect Hollman’s presence. As a freshman, she attended every American Jazz Museum jazz workshop and master class. She participated at jazz camps at Kansas City, Kansas Community College, the Marshall, Missouri Bob James Jazz Festival, the KC Jazz Summit and the Baker University Invitational Jazz Festival. At Northwest, she’s a member of the marching band, the jazz band, the basketball band and the symphonic band. In April she performed alongside up-and-coming Kansas City trumpeter Hermon Mehari at the Museum’s annual PEER Into the Future luncheon, attended by nearly 450 guests.

Hollman’s acumen for music came at an early age, but she believes her true musical interest began around age eight. She credits her parents for driving her interest. The Buddy Rich music… those albums belonged to her dad, Robert Hollman, a longtime Rich fan.

“I can’t forget driving with Rich’s Big Band playing Straight, No Chase. We heard this three-year-old girl singing along with the lead trumpet or sax section, while not missing one lick or accent,” added Robert, who plays the organ, piano and trumpet, while mom, Gretchen, sings. “My wife and I simultaneously looked at each other in disbelief. We knew that Sophia was ‘dialed-in.'”

“At first, we wanted to rent an alto saxophone and Sophia wouldn’t have anything to do with it,” says Gretchen. “This fourth-grader insisted on a tenor sax. Once we determined her hands were large enough, we decided on the tenor.” Within weeks, Sophia was mastering the fingering and working on all major scales. Her parents decided to go ahead and purchase the insrument.

Hollman also credits Northwest jazz band instructor Doug Talley and Rich Wheeler, her private saxophone teacher. And then you cannot discount Sophia’s internal drive.

“I’m driven by how music is its own language without words and that it conveys emotions that are unable to be said,” says Hollman, who also plays the piano. “You can pour your soul into the music and show people how you feel without saying a single word. I want to master this so I can convey my own thoughts and have others see my thoughts and emotions.”

Hollman’s drive and love of music is shown by her success. She was recently named the Outstanding Freshman Musician and Outstanding Jazz Musician at Northwest. She received Superior Ratings at the Kansas Music Educators Association District and State Solo and Ensemble Festivals.

Even though she’s only a sophomore, she knows that a music career is her dream. Maybe that’s the Jazz Studies program at North Texas State. Maybe it’s Julliard or Berklee College of Music. Whatever the destination, it’s a bet that Buddy Rich will be smiling.