A Fireside Chat With Horace Silver
“ When I wrote them, I would say to myself that I hope these at least withstand the test of time. I hope they don't sound old in ten years... ”
FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.
HORACE SILVER: I took up the piano, merely as a monkey see, monkey do type of a thing. There was a girl who lived next door to me. We were about the same age and we used to play together. She had a younger sister and sometimes we would play with her too. She was pretty young, but me and this girl, we used to play together. When her dad or mother bought her a bicycle, I went and I asked my dad for a bicycle. When she got her roller skates, I asked my dad for them. I tried to copy all the stuff that her parents were giving her, I asked my dad for. So finally, her brother was a pianist and he played in some bands around town here locally and finally, she decided that she wanted to study the piano and so her parents got her a piano, well, they had a piano actually. So I wanted to play the piano and do the same thing, copy her.
So my uncle worked out in the country somewhere for these rich white people who were moving to Florida and they had an old, upright piano that they wanted to get rid of and so he asked if he could get it and him and my dad found somebody with a truck and they went out there and got the piano and brought it home and put it in the kitchen and then I started taking lessons. That is how I started. After two weeks or three weeks, I got bored with playing scales and exercises and I told my dad that I wanted to quit, but he said, "No, you are not going to quit. You wanted this and I got it for you and you are going to stick with it." He said, "One day, you will thank me for this." And I do, today, thank him for it. But that is how I got started. Actually, Fred, I wasn't that much interested in it at that time.
It wasn't until I started being able to read music a little bit then I would go to the five and ten cent store and buy sheet music like "Moonlight Serenade" by Glenn Miller and "Stardust" by Hoagy Carmichael and all of these things that I would bring home and play to make it a little bit more interesting to me. It wasn't really until I heard the Jimmie Lunceford band at a local amusement park in Connecticut. I heard that band one Sunday, me and my dad and that band turned me on. That Lunceford band, they sounded so good. I just said to myself, "That's what I want to be. I want to be a musician." I made my dedication that night. I was about eleven years old at the time.
FJ: What were some of your other listening pleasures?
HS: Well, I used to go to the five and ten cents store at Woolworth and they had a record section, the old 78 rpm records and I would buy Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Count Basie, Slim and Slam, Slim Gaillard, Slim and Slam, and various other records. Whatever appealed to me, I would take them home and listen to them and get inspired.
FJ: During your distinguished career, you have played alongside the likes of Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Art Blakey, Lou Donaldson, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Cannonball Adderley, Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, J. J. Johnson, Kenny Dorham, and Art Farmer. Does anyone linger in your memory?
HS: Yeah, well, Miles Davis because I always tell people that you learn with everybody you play with. They're older musicians. They're geniuses. They're inspirational and you learn a lot from playing with them. Either they show you things or else you learn from observing what they do. But I think I learned the most, from any one guy, and that was from Miles Davis. We used to live in the same hotel and he used to come to my room and I had a piano in my room and he would show me some different chords on the piano and I learned some harmonic voicings from him. Also, I just learned from watching what he did and being inspired by his great genius.
FJ: In three decades, during the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, you led well over thirty sessions as a leader for Blue Note Records, not counting the numerous sessions you appeared on. It almost seems like you were the house pianist.