Published on June 20th, 2017 | by Craig Silliphant


Jazzfest: The Marc Holt Quintet

The Marc Holt Quintet (as well as The Holt/Becker Duo) are another great local jazz act that will be playing the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival.

This will be the fifth year that Saskatoon sax man Marc Holt has played the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival (and the fourth year that the Marc Holt Quintet has played). In his first year, he played as a member of the U of S Jazz Ensemble. This is the first time his project, The Marc Holt Quintet, has headlined a night on the free stage. It’s rare for a local band to get a plum spot like that, so it’s an opportunity Holt says they aren’t wasting.

I sat down with Marc to talk about his music, the festival, and what it means to be a jazz player in Saskatoon.


You can see The Marc Holt Quintet on the PotashCorp Club Jazz Free Stage on Tuesday, June 27, 8:00 PM to 10:00 PM.

And you can see The Holt/Becker Duo on 21St & Spadina Cres East on

Wednesday, June 28, 11:45 AM to 1:00 PM.

For more info on the Sasktel Saskatchewan Jazz Festival, go to


THE FEEDBACK SOCIETY: Easy question first: how did you get into music? Why the sax?

MARC HOLT: I learned piano as a kid and picked up guitar and bass in my early teens and played in cover bands all through high school because there wasn’t much else to do in Biggar. Playing music just felt right. I liked being on stage, and I still do. As for the saxophone, I started on the alto sax in grade seven band. In grade eight, someone needed to switch to bari sax and nobody wanted to. We flipped a coin and I lost. I was really unhappy about it at the time, but over the years I fell in love with it, so I guess fate had a plan for me. After high school I went into music at the U of S where majoring on electric bass wasn’t an option so I majored on saxophone. Then through my years of playing with the U of S Jazz Ensemble I got more and more obsessed with it and here I am today.

TFS: Other than the obvious in terms of number of people, what is the difference between your two shows?

MH: The Holt/Becker Duo show will be mostly standards in their traditional form where as the Quintet will be more contemporary jazz. People shouldn’t let that term scare them though. Contemporary can mean a lot of things in jazz and in our case it means the music has a more modern sound. As for the members, the duo is myself on baritone sax and Bryn Becker on piano. The Quintet is myself and Bryn again along with Michael Stankowski on guitar, Nevin Buehler on bass, and Nathan Abramyk on drums.


TFS: So let’s dig into that genre stuff a bit. I assume there’s a range of genres you’ll be playing?

MH: Actually, it’s pretty much all stuff that can be called jazz, but there’s definitely a lot of variety in the styles of jazz: cool jazz, hard bop, gospel, jazz rock fusion, and more. We try to stay true to being a jazz group while still playing stuff that the general public can get into. It’s a delicate balance.

TFS: How do you put your own spin on classic standards?

MH: We largely leave them in their original form, but play them with more modern sensibilities. The drums are a little more aggressive, a lot more organ and synth instead of piano; that kind of stuff. In jazz though, you can get away with playing other people’s music in mostly the same way for a lot of years.

TFS: What shows are you excited about seeing? Why?

MH: I’m super excited to see Donny McCaslin simply because he is one of the biggest saxophone players out there right now. I’m also looking forward to seeing Ingrid and Christine Jensen. They’re legendary in Canadian jazz. There are other shows I’d love to see as well, such as Kurt Rosenwinkle and Igor Butman with the Moscow Jazz Orchestra, but can’t due to other commitments. It’s great to be able to go out and see my friends and colleagues play as well.

TFS: What do you think of the Jazzfest mandate of booking local acts to play alongside international acts?

MH: I think it’s great! Playing the free stage is a great opportunity for us to reach people we wouldn’t normally get an opportunity to play for. People that aren’t normally into jazz hang out in the beer gardens all week just for the atmosphere. Hopefully those people leave feeling differently about jazz. Of course there will be lots of people there who are already jazz fans and it’s great to get to play for them as well. We appreciate them giving us these kinds of opportunities.

TFS: On a grander scale, how much work is there for you in Saskatchewan?

MH: Not as much as I’d like, but it could certainly be worse. Playing a non-mainstream genre, comes with extra challenges. We do a lot of private/corporate events and weddings and we love it. That’s actually where the Holt/Becker Duo came from. When a client doesn’t want all five of us due to budget or space, we scale it down. Those gigs are fun, but nothing compared to public shows. There aren’t many of those for a jazz group in Saskatchewan though. There are also a lot of great players around here and we’re all competing for the same gigs with our own projects and for getting hired as a sideman in other people’s projects, both jazz and in other genres. With that being said, it’s growing for me. Each year I’m playing more gigs and making more money doing it.


TFS: Any upcoming plans for a new album or EP?

MH: Yes! We’re heading up to Candle Lake for a weekend in July to lock ourselves in a cabin and get some writing done. Hopefully we will be hitting the studio in the fall and releasing what ever we come out with in early 2018.

TFS: Anything else that you want to mention?

MH: We’re hoping to hit the road with the Quintet again this fall so keep an eye out for that. People can find me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and at my website, Other than that, I just want to encourage people to get out and enjoy the festival and to challenge their musical tastes. Go see something outside your comfort zone. If you still don’t like it, that’s fine, but you just might leave there with a new favourite artist.

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is a D-level celebrity with delusions of grandeur. A writer, critic, creative director, editor, broadcaster, and occasional filmmaker, his thoughts have appeared on radio, television, in print, and on the web. He is a juror on the Polaris Music Prize and the Juno Awards. He loves Saskatoon. He has horrible night terrors and apocalyptic dreams.

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