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A Fireside Chat With Horace Silver

By Published: December 18, 2003

FJ: Classic Blue Note albums like Finger Poppin' with the Horace Silver Quintet, Doin' the Thing (At the Village Gate), Senor Blues, and You Gotta Take a Little Love have long been deleted and are unavailable for purchase in the States.

HS: I don't know, Fred. I would say that there is a lot of stuff that they have on the shelf there that I wish they would re-release, the Silver 'n series: Silver 'n Brass, Silver 'n Wood, Silver 'n Percussion, Silver 'n Strings, Silver 'n Voices. All that stuff is on the shelf that they haven't re-released that. I don't know why, but it is just sitting there. Several years ago, Michael Cuscuna called me and said that they were thinking about releasing the Silver 'n series. He thought that some of it could be remastered. He thought that some of it could have been mixed better and would I be willing to go into the studio with him and help him to remix it and I said, "Sure, I would be glad to." And that was the end of that. I never heard more about it. There is a lot of stuff there.

FJ: Just as historic as the music of those Blue Note albums are the cover art, which even today is vanguard. What was the extent of your input?

HS: Well, I approved or disapproved. Like what I'm doing now with Silveto Productions, who produces Horace Silver for Verve Records, I come up with the concept for the cover and work with the art department and the photographers in getting it done. I come up with the concepts, but in those days, I didn't come up with any concepts. All I did was once the whoever artist that designed it, did it, then Alfred would call me and I would go down to the office and take a look at it. Most of the time, I approved of it, but sometimes I said, "No, I don't like that." Once in a while, that happened, but very often. Reid Miles was fine. He did most of the stuff. He did some good work.

FJ: After three decades with Blue Note, you formed your own label, Silveto.

HS: I had the label for about ten years. After I did The United States of Mind (That Healin' Feelin', Total Response, All), that three-volume set called The United States of Mind, that particular music that I did on The United States of Mind, had a spiritual connotation to it. It had a lot of singing. It had a lot of good solos too. It had more singing than I've had on records before. I don't know because for some reason, it didn't sell that well, but I was very keen on doing this spiritual concept with the music and I knew that, at that time anyway and maybe even today, but at that time, Blue Note or any other company probably wouldn't want to go for that concept. So I said that the only way that I will continue this concept is to do it myself. So I decided to start my own label.

FJ: That must have been an arduous undertaking.

HS: Yes, it was, Fred. It was very difficult. It was basically a one man operation and I didn't have any other people signed up. It was a label with just myself. Although, I did release a Clark Terry quartet album, which was made from the tapes it was made at a club in Long Island. It was all pretty difficult. I had to do everything because it was a one man operation. You had to write the music, arrange it, write it out, rehearse it, and record it, and then the playback, and then you had to mix the sound and get the master done. You had to get a graphic guy to design the cover for you, a photographer, a graphic guy to design the lettering and the linear notes and things. It was a lot of work. Then you had to take the master tapes to the plant and have them do the pressing. It was a lot of stages to go through. But it was good. It was a good experience for me because it taught me how to be a producer.

FJ: After releasing a handful of albums on Silveto, you recorded It's Got to Be Funky and Pencil Packin' Papa for the Columbia label.

HS: Right, I was only with Columbia for a couple of years. We did two records for them and that was it. I wish they would re-release them because there is some fine music there. You might still be able to find a few copies that are still available, but it is not re-released. It is a shame, Fred, because I am proud of that music. Those two records came out beautifully. Andy Bey sang beautifully on it and so did, on the other one, O.C. Smith sang beautifully on Pencil Packin' Papa.

FJ: What personality takes precedent, Horace Silver, the composer, Horace Silver, the pianist, or Horace Silver, the bandleader?

HS: Well, hopefully, I would like to be known for all three because I'm a pretty fair pianist and I'm a good composer. I'm a good lyricist and I try to be a good bandleader. And I try to be a good businessman, for a musician (laughing). I mean, musicians are not always the greatest business people, but I realized that it is a part of the business. You have to be involved in the business if you are going to make out and so I try to be a good businessman as well.

FJ: And the royalty checks are still coming in?

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