eventually i’ll assemble these stories as my autobiography.
i feel that Horace was profoundly committed to melodic beauty, clarity, economy, soul, groove and creative hipness. his music proves exactly what his priorities are, you can ‘drop the needle’ at any point on any Horace Silver record and find these qualities in bright detail. he even named one of his pieces (from the 1975 album ‘Silver ‘N Brass’) ‘The Sophisticated Hippie’, and when i asked the great trumpeter Woody Shaw what it was like for him working with Horace, Woody noted that ‘Horace was like a soulful intellectual’.
i think that sometimes when a Jazz player is steeped in the blues and prioritizes the groove and doesn’t hide it, they can become critically pigeon-holed as being simplistic or not forward-thinking composer-improvisors. and of course nothing could be further from the truth with Horace Silver’s playing and writing – he consistently has something exciting, vital, earthy and inimitably clever for the people, for the musicians, and for the intellectuals all at once. and he does this always with such unaffected joy and uniquely personal humor. amidst it all his voice permeates his staggering recorded legacy and conveys the honest presence of both a spiritual man and a clever punster in all musical moments. never is Horace’s mind and quick-wittedness on auto-pilot. never does he miss a chance to add some ‘grease’ at the right moment, or to ‘spank’ the bottom of the piano in the sassy way only he achieves, to always ‘spark’ the band in the true spirit of the founding central voices of Jazz.
Horace is one of the dedicated geniuses who has made Jazz great, his recorded music lives on to heal and illuminate us forever.
Horace’s piano playing is perfection to me – never ever a ‘bad’ or uninspired note, everything he touches with an all-knowing warmth that imparts the same kind of healing rays as sunshine. Horace is so passionate, so absolutely, perennially in love with music and living wholly in the present moment with everything he comps and every note and phrase he creates. Horace, along with a personal shortlist of Cedar Walton, Sonny Rollins and Charlie Parker, is one of the kings of making hilarious and ingenious ‘quotes’ of sometimes very obscure and older, novelty songs or even radio show themes or commercials, and doing it in such a pure and honest and musically sound way that we love them for it! most ‘quoting’ comes off as redundant or even ‘corny’, yet ‘Bird’, ‘Newk’, Horace and Lord Walton are four Jazz masters who have shown the world a sophistication of humor that the rest of us can only marvel at and respect.
Horace is harmonically impeccable, yet in his autobiography ‘Let’s Get To The Nitty Gritty’, he makes it quite apparent how deeply he looked up to Thelonious Monk in regard to harmony and total musicianship. historically, as Jazz pianist-composers one could say Horace came along after Tadd Dameron and Thelonious Monk and before folks like Bobby Timmons and Cedar Walton.
along with his brilliant writing and arranging for trumpet-tenor saxophone quintets, his very individual sense of orchestration and his warm, dark employment of the middle-register of the piano created a sound and aesthetic upon which the Blue Note label of the 1950’s-’60’s conception was effectively built. Horace loves comping, and as he mentioned to Len Lyons in a published interview, in order to indeed become a great ‘comper’ (Jazz accompanist), one must truly take pleasure in hooking up the rest of the band, helping the rhythm section and the soloists get to ‘the thing’ as a team, not just be waiting their turn to play a solo!
when called upon to do so, i find it can be so difficult to name isolated favorite tracks. these days i find many young people asking to hear examples of some of the players who have inspired me. ‘i’ve heard you mention Sonny Clark. can you play me something of him?’ to a young person who’s never heard a particular one of the arteries of Jazz, my quandary then becomes: am i to recommend something athletic? or weird? something somehow sensational for sake of shock value? when an artist has the expansive emotional range of Horace Silver, it’s a tricky thing to endeavor to call attention to just one or two tunes. Horace is mostly known as a writer and leader of quintets. the thing is, his actual piano playing is incredible, as a piano player myself he is one of my personal favorites and pianistic heroes.
two of my favorite trio tracks of Horace are a swinger from 1959 with 20-year-old Louis Hayes on drums, called ‘The St. Vitus Dance’ from Horace’s Blue Note album ‘Blowin’ The Blues Away’, and also the slow ballad ‘Lonely Woman’ (by Horace, not the Ornette Coleman tune of the same title) from Horace’s 1963 Blue Note album ‘Song For My Father’.
my Father introduced me to this music. his name is Bert Green, he was born in pittsburgh, pennsylvania, in 1928. he played the tenor saxophone with all his heart, and while he consistently showed me throughout my precious time with him a selfless admiration for any cat who could really play the horn, his musical hero and prime inspiration was unquestionably Lester Willis Young, ‘Prez’. recordings like the 1936 Count Basie small group session with ‘shoe shine boy’ and ‘lady be good’, his solos with the Basie orchestra in the late 1930’s into the early ’40’s, and most of all the dreamworld realm of Prez’s recordings with Billie Holiday, formed the core foundation for my Father as a tenor player. you could hear and feel it whenever he put that 1938 lacquer-barren selmer balanced-action tenor in his mouth. my Dad. pretty much my Father’s last words to me years later as he was dying in his bed at home, were ‘you’re a beautiful cat’. that’s what my Dad was; a beautiful cat.
he seemed to understand musical expression profoundly as a listener, be it Bartok or Slim and Slam, and as a player he swung and played the blues. he made no secret that he expected authenticity from me as a Jazz musician, as his ‘son-of-the-righthand-man’, which he explained to me is what my name, Benjamin, means.
he always wanted the very best for me. ‘in our household, music comes before medicine’, i clearly remember him telling me when i was around ten years old. he made sure i understood the importance of being able to read music. years later, in 1984 when i was 21 and on my first commercial recording session, i was thanking my Dad silently in my heart for what he’d shown me. i still thank him inside wherever i go to play or teach, he is right inside of me, more than ever before.
when i kept repeatedly coming back to the garage behind our house at the age of 8 or 9, to sit quietly with my dad as he sculpted and listened with an ear-to-ear grin to his Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker and Ray Charles l.p.’s on his portable phonograph, he and i both realized that i was fast getting the ‘bug’. once you have it, nothing can quite get inside you like the feeling of real Jazz, meaning that the improvisation truly swings and has some authentic blues feeling to it, as well as taking chances and spontaneously executing them with virtuosity. there is infinitely more to Jazz than i will ever begin to ‘know’, but i will and DO put my life on the line that with the removal of these essential vertebrae, calling something ‘jazz’ does NOT make it so.
one day, my dear Dad, with such a careful and caring tone which he maintained to me as a musician to the day he died, and honestly i still hear his voice inside me in each day of my life, told me ‘if you’re really interested in this music we’ve been listening to, you should understand that it’s a black people’s music. other people can play it and enjoy it; i do as you can see, but you need to know where it’s coming from’.
Betty Carter is in all truthfulness, whether i remember it in each day or not, effectively my musical mother. Art Blakey, Ray Brown, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson and Freddie Hubbard all blessed my life by inviting me to participate in their music, included me on their recordings and live shows, and Art, Ray and Freddie even recorded my original tunes on their records. i have something to share today because i got to play with the hardest swinging bassist and drummer in the history of Jazz; i got to feel this!
i have always wanted to belong and be included and be a part of The Music, black-american music, Jazz. anyone who has ever gotten to know me or been in my home, knows exactly what i’m about. i love classic Blue Note quintet records, and the sound and feeling of a trumpet-saxophone front line like Lee Morgan and Hank Mobley or Kenny Dorham and Jackie McLean, is what i love, and it inspires the music i write. i am a Jazz Messenger, my life is dedicated to Jazz.