A Fireside Chat with Horace Silver
FJ: Your Blue Note sessions are not only touted for the music, but also the esthetic, the covers were art.
HS: They let me approve them. Frank Wolff usually took all the picture and Reid Miles did all of the designing. When they would get it together, they would have me come in and take a look at it. Most of the time, I approved of it. I told Alfred that most of the guys that recorded for him were concerned with doing a good record and the packaging, they didn’t give a shit about. I didn’t want a picture on the cover that I didn’t like and every time I looked at the cover, I cringed. He gave me that privilege of doing that and that is how I learned to be a producer, watching him and what he did and him allowing me to have input on the covers and liner notes.
FJ: Blue Note has an aggressive reissue program, so eventually, all your releases will be available to the public in some fashion. Do you have plans on doing the same for your Silveto recordings?
HS: Not really. Silveto is still a production company, but I don’t produce records anymore. I’ve got this new record coming out on Bop City Records, which I leased to them. I’ve leased them the master.
FJ: Rockin’ with Rachmaninoff, what is the story behind amusing concept?
HS: I had a dream one night that Duke Ellington and Rachmaninoff met in heaven and they both were admirerers of each other’s music and Duke took Rachmaninoff on a tour around heaven to meet all the jazz greats that had died and gone there like Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and Thelonious Monk. When I woke up from the dream, I thought that this would make a good idea for a stage play. So I sat down and wrote one. After I got it done, I was concerned as to how I was going to put this on. I knew Mayor Tom Bradley was a big jazz fan and so I approached him at an affair. Him and Billy Taylor went to college together and Billy Taylor was performing in town and I went there and brought a package of my Silveto Records and gave them to Mayor Bradley as a present. I included a little letter in there saying if he could help me get Rockin’ with Rachmaninoff put on in L.A., I would donate my services free. They would just have to pay the dancers, singers, and narrator. His secretary called me a few weeks later and said that he wanted to have a meeting with me. He introduced me to the head of the cultural affairs department and it took us about a year to get this thing put on, but we did put it on at a theater in Hollywood for a weekend. We got a great review in the paper, but nothing ever happened after that. So I decided to take the band and singers into the studio and record this music for posterity.
This was a major point in my career. I had never written a stage play before. I wanted to put this down on tape and bring it out on my Silveto label. That was my intent, but in the meantime, things got so bad with the Silveto label, where the distributors were not paying me, I had to throw in the towel. I went to Columbia and asked them if they would be interested in listening to it, but they weren’t even interested in listening to it.
Then I went to Impulse! and same thing. The thing sat there in my closet for eleven years. Finally my contract with Verve ended and I was free. I thought that now would be the time to get this thing out of the closet and mix the sound because I had never mixed the sound before. It was on two-inch tape. So we got in the studio and mixed the sound and I wanted to find someone to release it because I wasn’t going back to trying to put out my own records anymore because these distributors are a bunch of crooks. They take your records and they never pay you for them. Then I heard Al Schmitt and some partners were starting this company, Bop City Records. I called Al and asked if he wanted to hear it and he said yes and I sent him a copy. He called me back and said he liked it and I made a deal to lease it to them. It is coming out October 28.
FJ: And health and wealth are in the win column?
HS: Almost, not quite. I am working on something right now. Norah Jones did my tune “Peace” and I feel I haven’t been paid the right money for it. They never applied for a license for it and when I found out about it, it had been out already for a year and a half or so. I sent them a license and they signed it and sent it back, but they paid me from the date on the license and not the release. I am trying to get that resolved because Norah Jones sells a lot of records. But I’m feeling pretty good. I have a little sciatic problem that bothers me from time to time, my right hip, but I am getting treatment for it. Other than that, I am fine.
FJ: Have you retired from performing?