A Fireside Chat with Horace Silver
“ I knew Mayor Tom Bradley was a big jazz fan and so I approached him at an affair... I included a little letter in there saying if he could help me get 'Rockin ”
FRED JUNG: When did you become an Angeleno?
HORACE SILVER: I’ve been divorced for years. I got divorced when my son was about five years old. At that time, I was married and we were undergoing some bad experiences in New York. You know, Fred, I love New York. I still love New York, but we had been burglarized. Me and my wife had gone on vacation and we came back and our apartment had been burglarized. They just about cleaned the whole damn apartment out, took her fur coat and all her jewelry, took the stereo and kitchen appliances, the place was almost empty. They got us good because we were in Europe on a vacation for two weeks. We decided that we wanted to get out of New York. I always did love California. I used to come out from New York and play here once a year and I always enjoyed it so much. I loved the weather and the people. I talked it over with my wife and she agreed and we decided to move out here.
FJ: There is the cautionary phrase, “out of sight, out of mind,” were you ever troubled that perhaps being away from New York would have an adverse fallout to your robust career?
HS: No, no, I didn’t. Maybe earlier I had that fear, but I didn’t have that fear then because by that time I had made a name for myself in jazz. I could move anywhere and commute and do my gigs and still do my tours and recordings. I felt that I could live where I wanted to live because by that time I had built a reputation.
FJ: Word around town is that you have long supported the music in Los Angeles, regularly attending shows at the Jazz Bakery and Catalina Bar & Grill.
HS: I want to keep up with what’s going on. I want to hear all the old timers that come in from New York, who play at the Jazz Bakery or Catalina’s, check them out and give them a hug, but I also want to hear some of these youngsters that are coming out here. There are some fine, young players and I like to go out and check them out and encourage them.
FJ: It has become a part of jazz lore, but as the story goes, very early in your career, you were struggling to move to New York, Stan Getz hired you and you were able to do so.
HS: That’s pretty right. I had been saving my money to go to New York and try to make it in music. I got sick at that time and I had maybe seven hundred dollars in the bank and I had spent all that money on doctor bills. So I guess I used that as an excuse not to go because deep down within. I had a fear of going because what if I went down to New York and I didn’t make it? So I had procrastinated on going, although I had all this money saved up. Then when the medical bills came and I had spent all this money, it gave me an excuse not to make the move. But the good Lord was looking after me and Stan Getz came through Hartford and heard me and my trio and hired us. That was a blessing.
FJ: Perhaps raw pre-Getz, you fastly became the most significant addition to the Blue Note catalog.
HS: I used to play at the Paradise Bar and Grill on 110th Street and 8th Avenue with a guy named Big Nick Nicholas. We had the gig there five nights a week. It was him on tenor, Kalil Mahdi on drums, and myself on piano, no bass, and we played there five nights a week. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, we could play anything we wanted to play and all the guys could come and sit in and jam with us. But Friday and Saturday, we had to play for dancing and for the floorshow. Charlie Parker came in and sat in with us a couple of times. Gene Ammons, Sonny Stitt, Joe Newman, Ike Quebec, a mixture of swing era and bebop musicians would come in and sit in with us. Lou Donaldson came in, and that is how I met Alfred Lion. I was a good friend of Lou Donaldson and Alfred used to come in, because he was always scouting for talent, and he heard Lou and he liked Lou and so he recorded Lou. Lou asked me to be on his session and so I made this record with Lou and then a second record for Blue Note. Lou was supposed to make a third record for Blue Note, which I was supposed to be on and Alfred called me and said that Lou couldn’t make the session and that he had already booked the studio and to come in and make a trio album for him. That was my opportunity.
FJ: Interesting that he scouted talent, rather than waiting for tapes to come to him a day late and a dollar short.
HS: That is the thing, he didn’t wait for somebody to tell him who was great. Alfred got out and went to the clubs at night. He came to the Paradise and listen to the jam sessions to see if there was anything he liked and that is how he discovered Lou.