My Conversation with Horace Silver
AAJ: But what was it about the Blue Note label that allowed Horace Silver to harness that creativity?
HS: They let me do my thing. They allowed me to do my thing. Alfred said, they didn't dictate to me as to what kind of music that they wanted me to play or what tunes, what musicians that I was going to use. They let me do my thing. That's one reason I stayed there for twenty-eight years.
AAJ: Blue Note has just put out a box set retrospective of those twenty-eight years.
HS: I don't have the box set as of yet, but I got a listing of the tunes that are on there. I think Michael Cuscuna did a wonderful job. He approached me. He got it together and he sent me a listing, he faxed me a listing of all the tunes that were going to be on there. I approved of all of them. I made about three different changes. I think there are forty-five, forty-six tunes on the album, on those four CDs rather, and I only asked them to change three of them, not that the ones he picked weren't good, I had a couple of others that I thought were more important pieces of music to put on there. He made about three different changes at my suggestion. The rest, he put together all himself.
AAJ: During that period, you had a very close association with Art Blakey.
HS: Art was a great guy and one hell of a drummer. One thing, well many things I learned. I learned something about working with all of these great musicians, but one great thing that I think I learned from Art is to give all of yourself when you get up on that bandstand. That bandstand is like an alter. It's like holy ground or sacred ground. When you get up on that stage or that bandstand, throw everything else out of your mind and just give one hundred percent or a hundred and fifty percent of yourself. Give your all. I remember one time, Art giving us a lecture at the Café Bohemia. I guess he wasn't satisfied as to what the band was doing. He said, "Look, you guys. I don't care if you had a fight with your girlfriend or with your wife, or whatever problems you have got outside. When you come into this club, leave that shit outside and come up here onto this bandstand and let's take care of business. When you want to pick them problems up when you go home, that's your business. When you come in here, leave that shit outside and let's get up on there and cook." Get up on the bandstand and take care of business. And that's what he did. That's what he encouraged us all to do.
AAJ: And Miles Davis?
HS: Oh, Miles was a genius. He was a great, great, great musician and a beautiful guy too. He was a little eccentric some times, or a little, he's a Gemini. Geminis, they have this, what they call dual personalities. One minute they are jovial and the next minute, they're kind of on the grouchy side. When he was grouchy, I just kind of stayed away from him. When he was in a good mood, I tried to be around him. It was just great to be around him when he was in a good mood. We would always talk music. I always found that when great musicians get together and they start talking music, they become like little children. They become giddy and silly and laughing and talking. They love the music so much that it is such a joy to talk about it. I think we met at Birdland. I'm not quite sure how we met. I think it was at Birdland where we met though. He heard me there and I was introduced to him.
AAJ: Milt Jackson?
HS: Milt, I can't remember how we met, but it might have been at Birdland too. Everybody came to Birdland. I did a few records with Milt. It was always a joy to play with him. He's such a great, great artist.
AAJ: Journalists credit you with being one of the pioneers of hard bop, what is hard bop?
HS: Oh, that's a term that the critics put out on the music, but I would say that it's bop with a little more energy to it. There was polite bop and then there was hard bop. The polite bop was more sophisticated or more, the hard bop is real slam, bang, kicking ass kind of music, Fred.
AAJ: So you are fine with the nickname "Hard Bop Grandpop"?
HS: The "Hard Bop Grandpop"? Oh, yes (laughing). I get a kick out of it. Yes, I get a kick out of it.
AAJ: Why is it your music lends itself better to a quintet format rather than the conventional piano trio that your peers utilized?
HS: I like to hear my music played with something larger than just a trio. There's nothing wrong with playing with a trio either. It's OK, but I've always liked to hear my music played with some horns and sometimes a larger instrumentation than the quintet. We've done "Silver 'n Brass." We've done "Silver 'n Woodwinds." We've done "Silver and Voices," "Silver 'n Percussion," "Silver 'n Strings." We've done septets, sextets, octets. I try to stretch out and do something a little bit more different than just a quintet, but the quintet is my mainstay. The quintet is what the people love me for. They love Horace Silver in a quintet. I love the quintet setting. It's just that every now and then I just need something different.