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Horace Silver: Blue Note Records and His Lady Music

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I always had a good relationship with Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff. They liked me, my music, and my writing.
The Q&A portion of this article first appeared on KPFK 90.7 FM (Los Angeles) in 1974.

75 years ago Blue Note Records was started by two German immigrants who loved jazz and believed that the music should be heard and preserved. Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff collaborated and built the Blue Note vault of music that included the artistry of immortals: Miles Davis, Sonny Clark, Sidney Bechet, Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, The Jazz Messengers, Lee Morgan, Freddie Hubbard, and Horace Tavares Silver, from Norwalk, Connecticut.

Silver stayed with Blue Note Records for 28 years until the label was sold to Columbia Records and Lion retired to Cuernavaca, Mexico. In his autobiography, Let's Get Down To the Nitty Gritty (University of California Press, 2007), Silver had this to say about his bosses: "I always had a good relationship with Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, co-founders and directors of Blue Note Records. They liked me, and they liked my music and my writing. I never had to fight to get any of my compositions recorded."

His first instrument was the tenor saxophone and he later switched to piano after getting hooked onto Jimmie Lunceford and his band. Horace said that after hearing the Lunceford band at 11 years old, he got married to his first wife—Lady Music. He would play hooky from school; leave a note for his father saying he was going to the Apple. There he would get to 52nd Street and see anyone and everyone he wanted until he got a gig with Stan Getz that took him to New York, right into the nitty gritty of the jazz scene.

Throughout those Blue Note years, Silver wrote many themed compositions, including Portuguese, African, Soul, Mexican, Japanese, Nitty Gritty-Hard Bop, Indian Metaphysics, Native American Indian, Silver N' Strings, Silver N' Wood, Silver N' Voices, Silver N' Brass and Silver N' Percussion. Some of this exquisite music was found on an early album as a leader, Six Pieces of Silver (1956) including "Señor Blues," which later had lyrics sung by master vocalist Bill Henderson. Silver's early quintet was composed of Art Blakey, Donald Byrd, Doug Watkins and Hank Mobley; "Come On Home," "Doodlin," "The Preacher," "Serenade to a Soul Sister," "Filthy McNasty," "The Gringo," "Mexican Hat Dance," "Tokyo Blues," "The United States of Mind—The Healin' Feelin" and "The Cape Verdean Blues" are all milestones that Silver says, thanks to God, have brought him lucrative royalties from their recordings by musicians throughout the years.

There are some great musicians who had their start with Silver, including as Lou Donaldson, Donald Byrd, Hank Mobley, Blue Mitchell, Junior Cook, Carmell Jones, Doug Watkins, Randy and Michael Brecker, Willie Jones, III and Ralph Moore. He's also had some great guest musicians—J.J. Johnson, Stanley Turrentine, Andy Bey, Ocie Smith, Eddie Harris, Roger Humphries, Roy Brooks and Joe Henderson.

After Blue Note was sold, Silver started Silveto Productions and Emerald Records, with some great assistance from Bill and Camille Cosby. The first album was Guides to Growing Up (Silveto, 1981), with Eddie Harris and vocalists Feather. I remember buying it from Silver, as he sold them out of the box in between sets at Catalina's in Los Angeles.

In our first interview he expressed his joyful anticipation of moving to California and his exhilaration in becoming a father with his son Gregory. Now retired, he doesn't play anymore; but he gets out to hear some jazz as we both did; bumping into each other at Ruth Price's Jazz Bakery, to hear my former history student, drummer Willie Jones, III, who recorded with Silver on Jazz Has A Sense of Humor (GRP, 1999).

We travel back to 1974 at Concerts by the Sea—Silver returning to L.A. after an absence of five years...

Ed Hamilton: It's been since 1969 for your last gig in L.A.

Horace Silver: 1970 was my last engagement in Los Angeles, at Redd Foxx's club.

EH: We got that straight for the books. My last time seeing you was at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach. Basically a lot of people have said you've been sick; said you had arthritis in the hands; they said you went off too far into Transcendental Meditation too heavy. What has kept Horace from coming to L.A..?

HS: That's very funny [chuckles].

EH: It really is; not being in touch with you, I hear a lot of rumors from other musicians and it's really good to catch you, so, I'd like for everyone to hear what you have to say; whether its been economic, physical duress, or what.

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