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Max Holm | Don't Be a Stranger (feat. Joan Benavent, Matthew Baker & Pancho Montañez)

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Jazz: Contemporary Jazz Jazz: Latin Jazz Moods: Featuring Piano
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Don't Be a Stranger (feat. Joan Benavent, Matthew Baker & Pancho Montañez)

by Max Holm

He lost half his blood, but 7 blood transfusions from 7 strangers saved his life and tuned him into an award-winning jazz pianist. 2019 Downbeat Magazine's Outstanding Piano Performance. Here's Swedish/American pianist Max Holm's debut EP.
Genre: Jazz: Contemporary Jazz
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  Song Share Time Download
1. Don't Be a Stranger (Song for Julianne) [feat. Joan Benavent, Matthew Baker & Pancho Montañez]
6:24 album only
2. Absolut (feat. Joan Benavent, Matthew Baker & Pancho Montañez)
3:38 album only
3. Cantlebary Song (feat. Joan Benavent, Matthew Baker & Pancho Montañez)
5:59 album only
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.


Album Notes
It’s a typical evening in Boston. I get some food to eat, and as I look for a place to sit, I notice this kind of well-known pianist acquaintance of mine, sitting with his usual entourage. Normally I just wave hello or fist-bump him, but I see the back of a young woman who’s sitting with his group. Suddenly she turns in my direction, and like the story goes, our eyes meet across the crowded room. It’s love at first sight. She is beautiful, the type of girl I don’t normally meet or go for. Or maybe I don’t go for them because I never meet them. I think to myself, what the hell, and I sit down in an empty chair next to her. There’s definite chemistry between us, but they’re talking about Justin Bieber, and I’m a jazz guy, so I sit eating my burger and fries. Eventually I ask her what she’s doing, how she’s doing. We chitchat. My ride arrives, and I tell her goodbye. I have a work thing early the next day.

A few hours later I see she’s sent me a DM through Instagram. By the time I read it, three hours have gone by.

Hey it was great running into you tonight (smiling pink cheek emoji) Let me know if you have any time to grab a coffee tomorrow or something!

Hey when do you leave??

Hey! I’m leaving tomorrow morning. I have dinner plans tonight but I think they’ll be done at 9pm… Want to grab a late cup of coffee or something later tonight?

I hope I’m not too late. She’s been waiting for me to respond. I decide screw sleep, so we meet for a drink near where I’m staying. We talk about astrology because I’m heavily into that, and she tells me about family tragedy that’s really rough for anyone to deal with, but she seems to be okay -at least on the outside. She’s a Cancer and I’m a Leo. The chemistry between us is intense. A couple of tunes come on in the restaurant and I’m not really listening. She asks me about them. I don’t recognize the tunes. I’m paying attention to her… We’re flirting. I forget about it. I’m not much of a drinker, I’m feeling tired, but I don’t want to say goodbye again, so I invite her to my place. She says yes, and I make sure she understands that nothing will happen if she doesn’t want it to.

To say that it is the most amazing sexual experience I’ve ever had is an understatement. She is beautiful inside and out, and she’s a woman with no inhibitions. We make love in a completely open, giving and relaxed way. Lovely is the only word to describe it. We fall asleep in each other’s arms. “All I want to do when I wake up in the morning is see your eyes” – I’m stealing those lyrics from Toto because it perfectly describes how I feel when I open my eyes early the next morning and I look into her beautiful eyes. We kiss. She has a plane to catch, so I walk her to the Uber. We kiss goodbye. I feel so happy, I feel hopeful that maybe I’ve finally met a girl that’s right for me. We shared something precious. Instantly, as the car drives away, it fades into a memory.

We connected in the night like two souls with open-hearts, but in the daylight our hearts closed up like those flowers that only bloom at night. There was a weird DM exchange, then just like that it was over.

For a time I looked at her Instagram posts and wondered how much of that heavily-curated content was who she really was. I know that we had just a fleeting moment of connection, like a perfect storm of events that won’t happen again. It took a while for my heart to stop longing for more of the night-time her. I don’t look at her IG anymore.

When I started writing this tune, I called it DON’T GO. Then I thought: I don’t mean that. She’s gone, and it ended badly. What I want is to relive the beautiful time we had. DON’T BE A STRANGER is an ode to open-hearted love, to being unafraid to share yourself with another person, not being self-conscious or fearful of love, of giving and receiving 100%, and of not attaching other requirements to that exchange of love. With other women I’ve felt like they were hiding their real selves from me, as if they were keeping themselves strangers from me.

Did we meet at the wrong time? Did the reality that hit her in the daylight not measure up to her ideals? Maybe her goals and dreams prevented her from choosing me. I have also made those hard choices.

How do we measure the value of another person in our lives? Is it by their ability to keep up with our pop culture references? If they can fit in with our friends? If we share the exact interests? If we’re real with each other, is it too scary to engage with open-hearts? Does it feel as if we can’t keep up the radical openness? Do we always have to live behind a facade? Do we buy into that facade that we’ve created for ourselves? Are we believing our own hype? Are we doomed to always be a stranger in any connection we have with another person?

So my message to you is: Even if only for one moment, be completely open-hearted: DON’T BE A STRANGER.

Musically, DON’T BE A STRANGER (SONG FOR JULIANNE) is a contemporary jazz composition with a Brazilian Bossa Nova influence. It draws on the musical aesthetics of Joao Gilberto and Antonio Carlos Jobim. It’s composed with harmonically intricate moments – the A section starts in one key, and then the B section, the bridge, modulates to two keys, returning to the original key in the A.

In the arrangement, I focused on the beauty and fragility of that moment with Julianne. The saxophone’s role is to play the melody as if he’s singing. Joan Benavent did a great job of giving a voice to my singing heart. It reminds me of how Stan Getz phrased melodies and played his distinctive tone. Pancho Montañez brings the drums in suddenly from the beginning not just to drive the rhythm, but to help create the scenery, the kind of world we created for each other that could never exist outside of that bedroom in that time and place. That’s represented by the bossa nova-esque groove. Matthew Baker’s bass is the foundation for the groove, and it’s the anchor for the swing rhythm of the drums.

The A sections are about longing based on the memory, and the B section is the fantasy of what might have been. What could have been. What I had hoped for.

In the end I was just a one-night stand. I didn’t want to be a one-night stand. I hope that we may we always be able to connect to each other with open hearts and shining souls. That's the message of DON’T BE A STRANGER.

We live in a world right now where there are a lot of blowhards. Whether it’s a president or a prime minister, a dictator, a TV commentator or any random person giving themselves a sense of importance because they’re sitting anonymously behind a computer, there’s a lot of hot air and bullshit we’re subjected to on a daily basis. People are trolling each other, bullying, attacking and killing – all the while telling us it’s not happening the way we see it.

When I wrote ABSOLUT’s main theme I wanted to duplicate the wah-wah-wah of people talking nonsense, people who are filled with self-importance even though they have nothing intelligent to say. Their words have no value, and to me it sounds like wah-wah—wah wah-wah-wah-wah-wah. Like a puppet whose wooden mouth is flapping as somebody else pulls the strings.

Yet, we wake up. We eat breakfast. Kiss somebody goodbye. We commute to work. Chat with our co-workers, check email. We hang onto routines for dear life, as if they’re going to save us.

Politics is a complete sh-t-show, yet we’re still going along as if nothing is happening. We completely ignore it. We keep doing what we do.

The hustle and bustle of our immediate environments helps keep us blinded. It’s always there beneath the surface - that bubbling up of everything we don’t want to happen. Every now and then we catch a glimpse of it, but it’s too scary. We don’t want to confront it. We don’t want to see all the monsters under our own beds, so we pretend they don’t exist. We pretend that, as if by magic, it will all eventually be normal again.

Like little children playing in the middle of a disaster area, we need to disconnect. When the musicians solo, it’s like we’re at a hip club. People are trying to be light-hearted, to live and feel joy, and for a few moments, we do.

Many of my friends are in pain and they don’t know why. They suffer from depression, anxiety, addiction, general feelings of despair. Whether they have strong religious beliefs or not, they still feel a sense of loss. Like many people of my generation, I worry about the future. Some friends get engaged or married, have children, and I wonder about what kind of future those little children will have. I know I would not want a child of mine to suffer through wars, drought, famine, totalitarianism, living in constant fear and upheaval.

And yet I’m still waking up every day, composing music, playing gigs, making recordings. I'm an optimistic person, but even I can't imagine how we will repair the damage that is being done to the world and to each other.

In Swedish – I was born in the US but raised in Stockholm – ABSOLUT has many definitions. ABSOLUT can refer to the strength of a star’s light. It can mean the lowest temperature that can be reached. It can mean the highest amount of something. ABSOLUT can refer to the precise recognition of a sound or tone aka perfect pitch. An ABSOLUT monarchy with total rule. It can refer to a philosophical teaching about the nature of objective truth. It can also refer to abstaining from alcohol or other substance.

We can’t let all the situations that are destroying us reach the lowest point, the point of no return. We must remember we are made from stardust and embody within us that power that we can use for the greater good. Together we can reach new heights of love, brotherhood and compassion. Let’s pay attention and listen to what’s truly happening, what’s truly being said. Let’s be objective about how our actions affect others, not just ourselves. If you cut off a finger, the entire body feels the loss. Let’s deal directly with the problems, so that we don’t abuse substances to try to forget.

A few years ago I met and spent a summer with a wonderful family in Park City, Utah. The Cantlebarys are not perfect people; They’re too real for that. Led by the matriarch of the family, they behave in a way that reveals a higher consciousness. They help those in need, but also take care of themselves. They are kind, loving and connected to nature and animals, yet they also suffer the same ups and downs as all of us. They showed me family life that I had never experienced, since I was raised by a single mother. The nuclear family was an eye-opening experience for me. They had lived in Shanghai for several years, so musically I wanted to hint at Asian music. The tune is hopeful, optimistic, joyful and happy because that is how I felt when I lived with them, and it’s how I feel when I think of them.

Max is the 2019 Downbeat Magazine Outstanding Jazz Piano Performance winner. He's a graduate of the Berklee College of Music, where he was honored as one of the few presidential scholars. In 2018 he received a rare honorable mention from the Yamaha Young Performing Artists Competition, winning in the jazz genre, but coming in second in the combined classical, contemporary and jazz piano categories to a graduate student from Juilliard. In 2016 he was featured on 8 out 10 tunes on the NIMA Jazz Album of the year, The Inside of the Outside, with multi-Grammy Award winners Jeff Coffin (Dave Matthews Band), Branford Marsalis, Victor Wooten, Rashawn Ross and Roy "Futureman" Wooten, among others. Max was a Brubeck Fellow at the Dave Brubeck Institute. He has played hundreds of gigs at many well-known venues in the US and Europe. Most recently he headlined the Formentera Jazz Festival and The Fringe Festival of Jazz L'Estartit in Girona, Spain.

At the age of 14 Max had a near death experience, collapsing after losing half his blood. 7 blood transfusions from 7 strangers saved him. He gave a TED talk about how the blood transfusion/near death experience changed his personality and turned him into a jazz musician.



to write a review

Emily Larsson

Only 23? I can't imagine what you'll be like in 10 years! Amazing!
The maturity of your compositions and your playing leaves me speechless. You must never quit. You have a lot of stories to tell from the near death experience to longing for love. And on top of it you're deep thinker. We need more aware people like you in the world. I love your debut. Thank you from Sweden!