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A Fireside Chat With Horace Silver

By Published: December 18, 2003

HS: Well, Blue Note began long before I came with it, but when I got with it, it was sort of like a fluke how I got to do my own record session there because Lou Donaldson hired me to do his record. I did the first record with Lou and then I did a second record with Lou and then I was supposed to do a third record with Lou. About three days before the session, Alfred (Alfred Lion) called me and said, "Well, Lou can't make it. We've already rented the studio. Why don't you come out and make a trio session for us." I said, "Great." Luckily, I had a lot of material and I got a chance to practice for three days and got my thing together and went onto make this first trio album. That led to two more trio albums and I did three trio albums and eventually, I did a quintet album with Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, and Doug Watkins, Art Blakey, and myself and as a result of doing that album, I decided to make a go out of it.

FJ: That was the OG edition of the Jazz Messengers.

HS: I don't know exactly how long we played together. We didn't get that much work to tell you the truth, Fred. We worked a few gigs here and there.

FJ: One would think club owners would be foaming at the mouth to get you guys onto the bandstand.

HS: Yeah, well, that's the way it was in those days, Fred. We couldn't get a gig at Birdland for a while there. Nobody seemed to play much attention to us, the major jazz clubs. But anyway, we stuck together for a while until the thing dispersed.

FJ: The Horace Silver Quintet has quite an impressive alumni roll. Your thoughts on Hank Mobley, who appears on Six Pieces of Silver and The Stylings of Silver.

HS: Oh, a great musician, very underrated. He's one of the great jazz saxophonists of our time, I think, in my opinion, very creative and very inventive, always full of ideas, a lot of feeling when he plays. He is one of my favorite tenor saxophone players, Hank Mobley.

FJ: The late Art Farmer, who appears on The Stylings of Silver and Further Explorations by the Horace Silver Quintet.

HS: Art Farmer too, another beautiful musician, a wonderful person. He had such a wonderful style. He was really a stylist on his horn and Kenny Dorham too. I loved Kenny Dorham's playing. Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley together, at that time, when we had those two guys in the frontline, I think, that was one of the hippest frontlines that I have ever played with.

FJ: And Blue Mitchell, who along with Junior Cook, made up the frontline on classics like Finger Poppin' with the Horace Silver Quintet, Blowin' the Blues Away, Horace-Scope, Doin' the Thing (At the Village Gate), The Tokyo Blues, and Silver's Serenade.

HS: Oh, Blue was great. Blue had that happy medium. He pleased the musicians as well as the public. He knew how to get funky and get on down and rock the house with his playing and he could play hip too and he could play pretty. He covered the whole thing and had a lot of feeling. I will tell you, Fred, most of all the trumpet players that came after him, followed his pattern. He set the style for trumpet playing in my quintet.

FJ: And Blue's partner in crime, Junior Cook.

HS: Junior Cook, another very fine player, underrated. Jun was a fine musician.

FJ: As notable as Horace Silver, the pianist and Horace Silver, the bandleader have been, I have always been more partial to Horace Silver, the composer with exceptional hits like "The Preacher," "Senor Blues," "Soulville," "Cookin' at the Continental," "Peace," "Sister Sadie," "Strollin'," and "Song for My Father."

HS: Well, I never thought they would be, Fred. 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 or something. But I listened to some of those records we made ten, twenty years ago and they sound like they could have been made yesterday. So I always loved to compose. It is a talent that I discovered I had and I just started going to work with it. The way in which they come to you is not something that you can predict. Compositions could be instantaneous. You can get an idea and spout it all out and play it on the piano and write it out on paper or put it on a tape recorder. It could be a few minutes and then it could take you several days or several weeks. It depends on the situation because sometimes, you get a smidgen of an idea and you can't seem to complete it. It might take you weeks to complete it and then it might take you ten minutes, or half an hour, or the rest of the day, or three or four hours. It is unpredictable.

FJ: Does it become easier as the years pass by?

HS: I would say that sometimes it is easy and sometimes it is not so easy. Whether it is easy or hard, it is fun. That's the main thing, Fred. I enjoy doing it. It's fun and when I complete it and it's good, I am very happy. It is a lot of fun, whether it takes an hour or it takes two weeks.

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