Joe Holt is a busy guy – which, if you are a musician, is generally a good thing. A quick glance at his current schedule has him playing at least twenty gigs in Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland over the next month and a half. He managed to squeeze in some time
recently to speak with The Spy about everything from growing up in the big band era to his current focus as a musician.
Holt recalls always asking for toy instruments as a child. He began lessons after receiving a spinet piano at age 7, and has been solely playing music to support himself since high school – even bartering piano lessons for a car at one time.) His first steady gigs were with brothers Paul and Joe Midiri, playing classic jazz in the 1970’s. (Holt rejoined the brothers for a period, 2006-2008, with their festival touring band…festival gigs are generally regarded as quite lucrative.) After an 11 year stint as organist and music director for a Presbyterian Church in New Jersey, during which time he completed his college education and toured occasionally, performing mostly in churches, Holt returned to his first love, big band jazz.
Holt got a steady gig playing at the Showboat Hotel in Atlantic City. He said that although he was excited to be playing stride piano again, he was playing to mostly bus tours and senior citizens, not exactly the most attentive of audiences. He began noticing that many of the “regulars” only perked up when he introduced a sing-along session. It was an “aha moment.” Holt’s focus turned toward connecting to the audience through his music instead of concentrating on the artistic value of the piece he was playing. It was while playing at an assisted living facility that he was introduced to the idea of music as therapy. He began working with difficult patients, using his music to help reconnect them to their families and society. Holt is now a board – certified music therapist, and has worked in many senior communities throught the Mid Atlantic. (He actually played for one of his heroes, Cab Calloway, at that time. Holt was sworn to secrecy, as Calloway was chronically ill, and wished to be kept out of the public eye. In an astonishing coincidence, years after that Holt played in a private setting for Calloway’s wife as well.)
Holt believes his focus on music therapy and connecting people has helped his performance in general. He commented that his music is, “..a facilitator for him vs simply a career.” Currently he is playing more solo gigs; his two current shows are the classic jazz , “Happiness..A Thing Called Stride,” and “Spontaneous Joy,” geared more toward a classical audience. This time of year he includes holiday sing-alongs and “Do You Hear What I Hear,” featuring music from a show previously performed at the Prince Theatre and available on cd as well. You may also catch him in a supporting role with local favorites Beth McDonald and Felicia Carter, or with the Shore Jazz Trio in Lewes, Rehoboth and Easton. During the warmer months he has a steady gig playing on the American Cruise Line ships when they dock in St Michaels and Chestertown. As I said earlier, Joe Holt is a busy guy.
see the whole schedule here