The American pianist and composer Horace Silver talks about his musical life to Les Tomkins.
Source: Jazz Professional
Interview Text or Transcript
I prefer a small group. Jazz is improvisation and in a small group there is plenty of space for everyone to stretch out and blow. Also, a small group these days is far more practical. Large bands are nice to record with, but I wouldn't want to work on the road with one.
I prefer a small group. Jazz is improvisation and in a small group there is plenty of space for everyone to stretch out and blow. Also, a small group these days is far more practical. Large bands are nice to record with, but I wouldn't want to work on the road with one.
I have found that it is much easier for me to write an original composition, then arrange and play it in my own concept, than it is for me to find a new and different concept for doing some of the standards which have been done over and over again in the same old way. Original tunes come to me quite easily and I get a great deal of pleasure out of composing. It's fun to write a tune and then hear your band play it.
My most popular recordings have been "Senor Blues," "Doodlin'," "The Preacher," "Sister Sadie," "Nica's Dream" and "Filthy McNasty." The ones that pleased me most were Also "Strollin'," and "Peace" by Blue Mitchell with Strings on Riverside. "The Mastersounds Play The Compositions Of Horace Silver" on World Pacific and "Home Cookin' " and "Come on Home" by Lambert-Hendricks-Ross on Columbia.
For recording purposes, I intend to change the format from time to time. But for working purposes the group will be the same, for the time being, anyway.
I practise as often as I can, out of some exercise books first, then I concentrate on improvisation. Then if I feel inspired I'll try to search the keyboard for a new composition.
Some people have labelled my style of playing and writing as soul music; A lot of groups and soloists have cashed in on this.
The term `soul music' was created by the record companies to promote sales. I'm not against the term, but I am against the inferior groups that have tried to hop on the commercial band wagon. Our record company, Blue Note, has never tried to advertise us under the term soul music, because we were playing this sort of music long before the other companies came up with the term.
Too much emphasis is being placed on various tags like soul, mainstream, and third stream by the record companies and record buyers. It's all jazz, so why break it up into so many terms and confuse the people?
As regards the current trend toward absolute freedom by such musicians as Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Don Ellis and Eric Dolphy - every house must have a foundation, a structure on which to build. Absolute freedom is like trying to build a house without a foundation. I like Coltrane because he exercises a certain amount of freedom but yet the foundation is always there.
When I'm composing I try to search for something different and original both melody and chordwise. Most times, I try to write something easy to play, something simple but that has depth. On occasions I get carried away with too many notes or too many chords.
I think various time signatures are very interesting. Dave Brubeck has done some very intriguing things in this vein, so has Max Roach. The ability to swing comes from the musicians. If they become familiar with the time signature, then they should be able to swing within it. I hope this doesn't turn into a gimmick though.
Miles, Bird, Lester, Sonny Rollins, Dizzy, Monk, J.J., Kenny Dorham, Bud Powell, Coleman Hawkins and Coltrane are among my favourite musicians. For composers there's Duke, Monk, John Lewis and Bud Powell. Tadd Dameron, J.J., and Gil Evans are among my favourite arrangers.
For the future we have just completed a new album which is dedicated to Japan. It is called "The Tokyo Blues" and includes "The Tokyo Blues", "Sayonara", "Too Much Saki", "Cherry Blossom" and "Oh! So." We are supposed to go to Europe in October with the Gerry Mulligan band for Norman Granz. This particular band has been more well-received, I would say, than some of the bands I've had before it. In the different cities we've played over here, everybody seems to love this band. We've got great Press reviews, too.
People always compare, of course. Personally, I like all of my bands, because all of them have a little something different. They're the same, but yet they're not the same, if you know what I mean. We're still playing my music. We've got some new compositions in the library, but we're playing some of the old things also.
But I find that, with each new group that you get, it gives the old things a sort of an added dimension, or another interpretation, and that makes it interesting. I like 'em all, though, because I take quite a great deal of pains in picking each musician, for their talent and for their personalities and everything. One thing strikes me kinda humorous, sometimes. It seems like every time I get a drummer, most people like the one I have better than the previous one. A lot of people are fond of Billy Cobham's playing, and he's a very fine young drummer.
When I had Roger Humphries with me, everybody was raving about him. And before that, everybody raved about Roy Brooks; before him they raved over Louis Hayes. So it makes me feel happy that I've been able to pick such fine drummers through the years.
My present front-line men, Randy Brecker on trumpet and Benny Mauphin on tenor and flute are, for young guys, quite mature in their playing. The front-line I had when I came over here last time, Woody Shaw and Tyrone Washington, they were excellent, and played their asses off. But they were inclined at times to play a little too long; I don't know whether it was just because they were young or whatever.
These guys with me now are a little more aware that when they reach their climax they're supposed to stop and let the next man have it. Which is beautiful; it makes the overall thing come off a little better. We're getting ready to do an album when we go back to New York. I'm looking forward to it. Although it’s the same instrumentation that I've been using on the rest of my records, it should be a little bit different, within that context.
For one thing, Benny doubles on flute; so we're going to do two tunes that include it. Then our bass player, John Williams, is doubling on the electric bass; we're using that on three tunes. Also, Randy is going to play one tune on flugelhorn. So these things will give it a little added colour.
Talking of the electric bass—you know, I never used to dig it when it first came out. But I really can use it now. When it comes to strict jazz tunes, I don't care so much for it; I prefer the regular old upright bass. On numbers that are slightly rockish, or in a really funky, bluesy kind of vein, such as "Psychedelic Sally", I like it very much: It lends a lot of depth and body to what's going on.
No matter how loud the drums might get, going into a back-beat rhythm or something, the bass is never drowned out. It's nice to be able to write far the flute.
We've got a tune called "The Belly Dancer", and the flute really suits that very well. Benny has been very fortunate in getting a couple of good buys. He got the flute from a friend of his who wanted to get rid of it, for a reasonable fee. He also found someone who had an oboe to dispose of, so he bought that. Lately he's been practising it; in the future maybe I can write something to include the oboe too. That certainly interests me.
Lately I've been getting very involved in writing lyrics. It's been coming across pretty well, I plan to do about seven tunes on this next album; out of the seven I've got lyrics to four, the ones that are more commercial-minded. They won't be sung on the record, but they'll be included in the liner notes, in case anybody would like to sing them. Or just for people to read the story, the thought behind the music, to give them a better idea of the song.
I never bothered too much about lyric-writing in the past. The couple that I had done were out of necessity. "Senor Blues" and "Sister Sadie" I wrote more or less because I couldn't find anybody else at the time to do 'em for me. I just tried it myself and it came off okay. I didn't give it that much thought before, but I've been getting into it and it's been quite interesting. I find that I can do it.
It's the same thing with liner notes too. This last album that I did, "Serenade To A Soul Sister", is the first liner note I've ever done. Because I always used to think, like: "What can I say about my own music? If I say it's no good, the record won't sell." I can't put myself down, but I can't elevate myself. So I didn't even go into all of that. I avoided the analytical approach of some of the critics, when they do a liner note: "Well, so-and-so played this on such-and-such a take" or "this was a G7th here or a diminished there."
For instance, one of the tunes, "Jungle Juice", is in 5/4 time on the outside of the tune; on the inside it goes in 6/4, then it goes back into 5/4. But I didn't even mention that on the liner note; I didn't think it was important, because I felt that the musicians could hear it anyway, and figure it out. With most of the people reading the notes in mind, I had no wish to go into who played what solo and how they played it. I just gave a little dissertation about each individual musician, saying what I thought of them. Then I went on to explain about each tune, why I called it what I did and what it was meant to convey. And the ones that I had lyrics far, I put those in the note, too.
The theme that the album started out with was Love, and most of the tunes had that type of connotation to them. At the end of the note, I wrote out my musical Do's and Do Nots. One day I was going up to Connecticut on a train, sitting back meditating, and I just happened to think of why I do some things I do and why I don't do some things. I started jotting them down on the back of an envelope.
It came to me that this might be a good thing to include in a liner note, to let people know why I write the way I do, why I play the way I play. It was something to the effect that I believe that jazz should be happy music, conveying happy emotions rather than angry emotions, so I try to write that type of music. And that I didn't believe in politics or hatred or anything like that being expressed in music. The fact that music is being used for this purpose is one reason why I wrote it.
I believe there's enough hatred and all of that mess out in the streets without putting it into your music. Music should uplift you. People work hard at a jab all day; it might be a job that they love or one that they don't particularly like to do. They'd probably prefer to do another type of job. But whatever they're doing, they might come home and their feet are tired. They want to get away from it all; they don't want to hear no angry music. A cat comes in, goes in the fridge and gets a couple of bottles of beer, sits down and puts some sides on, he wants to relax and groove to some happy sounds. I think, anyway. That's the way I feel about it.
There's always been protest in folk music. You have angry folk songs, and things of that nature. That's all very well and good; but I believe that I'm a crusader for happiness myself. I look at music as being something joyful, good and beautiful—something that's going to enhance somebody's being, uplift their spirit, you know. That's what I believe my job is. I believe I was put here not to kindle anybody's hostility, but to wipe it out. To try to the best of my ability to make 'em forget all of that.
Like, if somebody comes into a night club and they've got the blues, they're down and out, they feel kinda disgusted or something, they might hear a set that we play that will knack them out, and turn their whole thoughts around. I feel I've done my job if I've done that.
There's enough bitterness already. I'm not saying that you shouldn't maybe try to protest when conditions are wrong. You don't need to be just passive, but I don't think it should find its way into the music, necessarily. Maybe so in folk music, as I say, because that's like history. But jazz to me is a happy music. So is pop music, for that matter. Rock makes people dance, and forget their troubles. That's what it's all about.
I wouldn't say musicians like Albert Ayler and Archie Shepp are misguided. Not for them. Different people are put here far different reasons. I guess that's their purpose, to express anger. But I don't feel it's my purpose. One doesn't have to sit there and listen to that. If someone likes that sort of thing, he will listen; if he doesn't, he'll move on. Some people may prefer to hear an angry type of music than to hear the happy type of music that I play.
A friend of mine always has an expression: "Different strokes for different folks." What makes life so beautiful is: there's something out here for everybody. And that's why nobody should ever have ill feelings against each other; there's always room for somebody else. He might not be doing the type of thing that you particularly go for; and vice versa, but you can acknowledge one another for doing it. I don't particularly go for angry jazz, but I know Archie is sincere in what he's doing, and I respect his ability and his sincerity.
I'm not over-familiar with Archie's music, but I've heard some that, although it was way-out in its conception, the form was still there. Which I dug. I believe in form in music really; every building has to have a foundation. Otherwise, where are you going to place the bricks? And you can place them in any manner you want to-lop-sided, crooked, straight, on an angle. If you've got some kind of a form there, you can put whatever you like on top. Without the form, to me it's kind of a haphazard type of structure. Starting nowhere and finishing nowhere—this loses me completely. It's utter chaos most of the time.
The danger in this idea of freedom, and the thing that's pretty frightening, is that it can be a cop-out for a lot of younger cats. Some of the teenagers, like 18 or 19, come along and may not have a good musical background, and go into that sort of playing. But they can't do the other thing. I say: first learn your changes. Once you know how to play chords, then you can go into anything else you care to. I'm sorry to say that some young cats don't even want to find out about changes. They better learn; if they ever get a chance to play with Ornette or some of the avant garde players who really know what they're doing, they would find out that many times they're working off of some sort of a form. Or if not a form, a scale or a pattern of notes. They're not just blowing everything off the top of their heads. They have some sort of a little map to follow, and if you can't follow it, you're in trouble.
The thing is to keep an open mind. As I do, in my writing. I feel an affinity with all types of music. Because I'm continually searching to find inspiration to write new material. It comes from various sources. A few times it's come from folk music; sometimes it might come from rock, or from the blues. From Japan I got quite a bit. And I wrote a thing called "The African Queen" after listening to some African folk music on a record. I've never been to India, but I wrote "Calcutta Cutie" and "Baghdad Blues".
I hear those sounds in my ears sometimes; I don't know if they would call it authentic or not. They probably wouldn't. But I dig that sound they've got particularly go for; and vice versa, but you can acknowledge one another for doing it. I don't particularly go for angry jazz, but I know Archie is sincere in what he's doing, and I respect his ability and his sincerity. I'm not over-familiar with Archie's music, but I've heard some that, although it was way-out in its conception, the form was still there. Which I dug. I believe in form in music really; every building has to have a foundation. Otherwise, where are you going to place the bricks? And you can place them in any manner you want to-lop-sided, crooked, straight, on an angle.
If you've got some kind of a form there, you can put whatever you like on top. Without the form, to me it's kind of a haphazard type of structure. Starting nowhere and finishing nowhere—this loses me completely. It's utter chaos most of the time. The danger in this idea of freedom, and the thing that's pretty frightening, is that it can be a cop-out for a lot of younger cats. Some of the teenagers, like 18 or 19, come along and may not have a good musical background, and go into that sort of playing. But they can't do the other thing. I say: first learn your changes.
Once you know how to play chords, then you can go into anything else you care to. I'm sorry to say that some young cats don't even want to find out about changes. They better learn; if they ever get a chance to play with Ornette or some of the avant garde players who really know what they're doing, they would find out that many times they're working off of some sort of a form. Or if not a form, a scale or a pattern of notes. They're not just blowing everything off the top of their heads. They have some sort of a little map to follow, and if you can't follow it, you're in trouble.
The thing is to keep an open mind. As I do, in my writing. I feel an affinity with all types of music. Because I'm continually searching to find inspiration to write new material. It comes from various sources. A few times it's come from folk music; sometimes it might come from rock, or from the blues. From Japan I got quite a bit. And I wrote a thing called "The African Queen" after listening to some African folk music on a record.
I've never been to India, but I wrote "Calcutta Cutie" and "Baghdad Blues". I hear those sounds in my ears sometimes; I don't know if they would call it authentic or not. They probably wouldn't. But I dig that sound they've got going on over there, too; I would like to go there and play some day, and really check it out. Africa, too—I'd like to check that out. I haven't ever composed in Europe.
I haven't heard anything in Europe that's really turned me on to composing. As far as writing music is concerned, I think it's the exotic things in my travels that kinda turn me on. Europe is very beautiful to me but, as I was saying to a friend of mine the other day, when you're in the States it's like looking at a negative from the front; when you go to Europe, it's like seeing the same picture but just turning it around and looking at it from the back. In other words, the cultures are not that much varied. It's just a slightly different interpretation of the same culture. But when I went to Japan, it was so different that it turned me around.
When I went to Brazil, the same thing happened. These are the kind of places; the revelation of an entirely new culture does something special to you. I don't think anybody should worry about the healthiness of the overall jazz scene. The States still lead as far as having jazz night clubs throughout the country, compared to here. Sure, there's a few of 'em that have gone out of business. And there's a few more that's opened up.
In New York City, a couple have closed, but some more are operating. You've got the Blue Coronet in Brooklyn. Count Basie's, Uptown, they're having jazz now; we're going to go in there soon after we get back. The Vanguard is still open, although they're having a bit of difficulty, I understand. But they're still hanging on.
The Village Gate is doing quite well. There's another club Uptown called the Club Baron that has jazz. That's five places right there, in the city of New York. Then you have two places in Chicago, two in Boston, two in Philadelphia. In Los Angeles there's Shelly's Manne-Hole, the. Lighthouse; quite a few clubs are running jazz there. You've got three in 'Frisco—a place called the Both/And, Basin Street West, and the Jazz Workshop, which we're going to go to play pretty soon.
I don't want to make it appear that everything is peaches and cream over there. I have to admit that business gets a little shaky from time to time. Some of these clubs are having a hard time trying to keep their doors open. They might have to close up for a while, then re-open, or slack off and run weekends temporarily until they get it going again. But still there's many more clubs for jazz than there are here. Here you've got to come and play concerts.
Basically Ronnie Scott's is the only place you can sit down and play for a few weeks. The other places can't afford to bring you, and there's not that many of 'em anyway. I don't mean to knock the European jazz scene, because Europeans are very enthusiastic. I've found that every time we do a tour over here, we play more cities in Germany than any other country, So I say hooray for them; they really must love jazz. There's always so much talk about the French or the Swedes being so jazz-conscious. But I don't think it's so well-known, especially in the States, that the Germans dig jazz that much. I get so disgusted when I hear these people talking about "Jazz is dead" and all this ridiculous nonsense they print—I guess, to sell magazines or whatever. No true art form such as jazz is going to die. Regardless of fluctuations in its fortunes, jazz will always remain very much alive.
For our recent engagement at Ronnie Scott's, I had the same front-line as I had when I was there two years ago— Bob Berg on tenor saxophone and Tom Harrell on trumpet. Both of these fellows can be heard with me on our last two Blue Note recordings, "Silver `N' Brass" and "Silver `N' Wood". We have a very fine drummer with us now, from Newark, New Jersey—Eddie Gladden, who just joined us in June; he was over here last year with Shirley Scott, and he's worked with James Moody, Jimmy McGriff, quite a few names. And we have a very young new bass player from Philadelphia—only twenty years old, right out of music school; he's been working around with Philly Joe Jones, who is back living in Philly now. His name is Steve Beskrone.
It’s a fine group of musicians, and I'm very happy with them; we're having a lot of fun. Rhythm, melody, harmony—all three are very important aspects of my music. Yes, I like the straight-ahead, swinging type of things, but, as you know, I'm wrapped up in Latin rhythms and stuff, too. I try to always maintain my identity, my originality, and be true to myself, you know, but I keep an open mind and open ears. I search for all different type of influences.
Some things do not influence me; other things, like the Latin rhythm, do—I try to use it in my own original way. I've heard some African music, that opened my head to write "The African Queen", and I'm working on some other stuff now that has African influence. I won't say that I'm totally familiar with Indian music, but I've heard a bit of it, which helped me to write a few things in that direction. Gospel, blues, all these elements—I blend them into something that is uniquely mine. I remember one time, when I was doing the series of three recordings called "The United States Of Mind", I was searching for a girl who could sing gospel; I auditioned one girl, the wife of a very well-known drummer—she had been a gospel singer before she got married.
We went over some songs, and after we finished I said: "I think you have a very fine voice, I like the way you sing, but it's not exactly what I'm looking for." So she said: "Well, what do you want? These songs are not really gospel." And I had to explain to her: "No, they're not—they're just gospel-influenced." I mean, I couldn't, if you paid me, sit down and play authentic gospel—because I'm a jazz musician.
That's my heredity, I've been brought up with it, I love it. But I've taken some influence from the gospel and added it into my music, as I have the blues, the Latin, the folk, the African, the Oriental, and what-have-you. I couldn't play authentic Latin or gospel music. Well, to come right down to it, I couldn't play authentic blues—in terms of people like Lightnin' Hopkins or Muddy Waters. You just take those influences and mix them in. So that's where I'm coming from, more or less.
Before these two new albums, I'd never done any big band things under my own name. I did a session with Gigi Gryce, and I wrote "Speculation", which is one of the arrangements on that record. And I've done a few records with Quincy Jones that were semi big band. But this is my first recorded attempt at it, and I think it came out quite well; I'm quite pleased with it. If they sound recognisably me—that’s my intention. I want my feeling about music, or my sound, my interpretation, my conception to come through in everything I do, whether it be big band, small band, forty-piece orchestra, whatever.
I have to have something that comes through the music that has my stamp on it—that's important. No, there's no electronics on them—although I'm definitely not opposed to that, I have used the RMI electronic piano on "The United States Of Mind", as well as the Fender bass, and I've used the Fender on other straight-ahead recordings. I've used the wa-wa pedal on the piano, and the electric guitar with the wa-wa pedal. I like it—to a point. I don't think I could over-immerse myself totally in electronics, like some other fellows have; but there's nothing wrong with that, if you feel it. I probably will dabble in some electronics again. It’s nice as a deviation from time to time, but I have too much respect and love for the acoustic instruments to totally ignore them. Since I wrote my "United States Of Mind", I've become a lyric writer as well as a melody writer.
Well, before that, I wrote a couple of lyrics, out of necessity, because I couldn't find Jon Hendricks or somebody else to do it for me at the time; these were for "Senor Blues" and "Sister Sadie". They were quite tongue-in-cheek type of lyrics, with a sense of humour—nothing heavy, you know. But what I did for "The United States Of Mind" was some very heavy, in depth lyric writing. It’s sort of a new fontana—until I did those albums, I didn't know I could be that heavy, and it opened my head to a lot of things.
Everything I write is not conducive to lyrics. I write certain tunes that I know are strictly instrumental; others I know should have a lyric, and I add one. Or sometimes a lyric comes simultaneously with the melody. But I feel there are hundreds, or maybe thousands, of songwriters and lyric writers out here who are bringing great happiness, joy and beauty to the world by writing about human relations between man and woman, and "I love you", and love affairs—this type of thing, which is very beautiful, very fine.
Plenty of people are doing that very well, and I like to leave that to them; I feel that my lyrics should deal with something a little heavier. Not that that is not heavy, but I mean something of more intrinsic value. I feel it's needed, and I have an urge to delve into it, anyway, because I'm a person who's very much into metaphysics. It’s a fascinating subject to me; I love to read about it and study it. I've cultivated this interest within the last ten or twelve years or so.
One astrologer has written in his book that "The stars do not compel; they impel", and I believe that. You can find out certain things about your personality and your character through astrology, numerology, many different sources. You can be told a lot about yourself through a palmist who really knows what he or she is doing. There's the science of phrenology—reading the bumps of the head.
There's orology, which has to do with the eyes; the man who was my doctor for years, who died in his eighties, was relating to me some experiences that he had when he was a young man, with an older doctor—he could tell what afflictions were in your body just by looking into your eyes.
Apparently, if you know how to read the markings in the eye, you can diagnose the inside of the body. It's fascinating. But all of these beautiful sciences are practically lost now; you might find an elderly person tucked away somewhere, who still has this knowledge. However, I don't live my life by the stars, by numerology, by palmistry or anything.
These things are just guide-posts, that can give you some inkling or some clue to your character defects. And once you find that clue, you should try to do something about it; it's up to you, whether you want to improve yourself, stay like you are, or get worse. Likewise, if you have a clue to your physical defects, you can try to work on 'em.
As far as astrological signs are concerned, there are various generalities about each one, that the people under that sign have in common, and knowing these help you to have some kind of a surface view of a person. But you can't say a hundred per cent that someone is this way or that way; it's dangerous to say: "He's this sign; so he does that, or he does that." Many other things come into play, like your rising sign, your sun sign, various houses; somebody would have to do a complete chart on anybody, to know them in depth.
It helps you to a point, that’s all. I used to have a musician with the band some years ago: one of the most beautiful people I ever met in my life, and a fine player—but he sort of lived his life by the stars. He'd say: "I know why I can't play well today—it's because Jupiter is in Mars." Which is hogwash to me. You have your God-given free will, and you're supposed to overcome anything. You know, when the full moon is out, they say people start acting strange—and I've found that sometimes some people do act a little weird on full moon nights. But to hell with that—you've got to overcome every obstacle; obstacles are put in your path in order for you to overcome them. Once you overcome them, you become a stronger man.
So I let these sciences guide me—and then I keep going straight ahead. There's always directions you can take that are better, but I feel that when the time is right, you will make the proper changes, or the proper moves. I could have gotten into these big band endeavours years ago, but I guess the time just wasn't right. I wasn't ready for it—now I am. I feel in tune with it; I feel that this is an expansion on my part, and I want to get into it. And there's many other expansions I have in the back of my head, that I want to bring forward and get into— when the time is right I have to take it step by step.
Of course, economically, the big band is not practical at all; it's hardly possible to do it, except maybe in concert, for one or two nights here and there, where a promoter would put up that type of money, and you could get that type of an audience, to pay the musicians. But I could never travel on the road with twelve men, you know—I'm not making that kind of money. I haven't done it yet, but I hope I can arrange some concerts with that line-up—possibly in Los Angeles, also in New York, some of the bigger cities.
I chose the specific players for these two albums. My reasons were the same as I always have: I'm looking for musicianship, for somebody who can read well, who can solo well, who can interpret my music well. There's a lot of guys who can read and solo well, but you have to get somebody who's in tune with what you're doing. You have to feel they can play in your idiom, and bring out your music to its best degree. The success I've had has been on a pretty steady level. I consider myself very fortunate, in that I guess I have become, thank God, a sort of a mainstay in jazz music. Because I work when I want to work; I have no problem getting bookings or anything. I'm very happy that I continue to maintain a recording contract, and the records are moving.
When I want to take a little time to rest, I do that. Although things could always be better, they could always be worse, too. I'm striving to make them better, and I feel they will be in time. Right now, it’s working out very nicely. I'm very proud of the fact that my first piano folio has just come out; it's published by Hansen Publications of Miami, Florida. It's called "Horace Silver's Greatest Hits", and it contains fifty-three songs. They're all in piano copy form—you know, right hand, left hand.
The tunes that have lyrics, they're added there; the chord symbols are over the top of the melody and everything. I'm kinda proud of it, and I'm anxious to get into more.. I've signed a contract with this company, and they're going to print up all of my stuff eventually. We can't flood the market with it, of course. This folio has come out now, and within the next six or eight months, a year or whatever there'll be a second folio.
The guy from the company told me: "Don't put all your most popular tunes in the same folio. Put some in there, and save some for the next folio." So that's what I did. I think some of the school bands play my music—that's up to them. This folio is not the first published thing I've had out; I've had some orchettes on "Doodlin"', "The Preacher", "Room 608", "Creepin' In", "To Whom It May Concern".
But all these college big bands have to do is get somebody to take it off the record and write an arrangement on it; a lot of 'em do that. And we've played some combination workshops and concerts in colleges, which was quite interesting and a lot of fun; we did that in the Washington, D.C. area a few years ago.
You don't have to go to music school to be a fine musician; you can study with a private teacher or something. But a lot of guys, certainly, come out of the music schools and go into rock groups, because there's much more money involved in that type of work. And they become quite good musicians in that, but then some of them never quite get fully immersed in the jazz thing. Which, in my opinion, is little more intricate; it requires a little more getting together, you know. Then there. are some that get into both. I was very fortunate a few years back to have the Brecker brothers with me. Randy and Mike Brecker are great players; I love those guys, because they can play it all—they play both rock and jazz equally well. Really, to play jazz, you have to love it; you have to dedicate your life to it.
As an art form, I always equate it with classical music; it takes a lot of attention to get into it, and to get something out of it. If you're going to really derive some enjoyment out of the music, you have to immerse yourself in it, and let it immerse itself in you. Same with jazz—it's basically mental music. Some of it is danceable—what I call "feet music"—but much of it provides a real mental stimulus. As for the musicians who tend to go far out—nobody can put handcuffs on a talented person, and tell them they cannot go but so far. I
say: go as far out as you want to go, as long as you're sincere and dedicated; just be prepared to suffer, because you're not going to be accepted. I mean, I don't consider my music far out, but naturally I don't have the acceptance that the commercial popular artists or the rock artists have. So a person whose music is way further out than where the average listener would see my music—he's got to be ready to do without, to make less money, to work less. But, if he loves his music, if he really believes in what he's doing, I've got to pat him on the back and respect him for sticking to his guns, for carrying on through with it.
Sure, maybe some of those who have gone far out on a limb have turned off some jazz fans—but if you don't like that, you just don't have to listen to it. But don't put it down, because that’s the way they feel about it—if they're sincere. Well, the test of time'll prove that. You know, you look back at Ornette Coleman, and he's still laying with what he started. He loved what he's doing, and he does it very well.
Okay, maybe it doesn't relate to everybody, but I have a lot of respect for the man; he's a real artist. He's stuck to what he believes in—what more can you say than that? And he has suffered for it—he doesn't make that much money; he's always getting grants from somewhere or another. Nobody has to listen to that type of jazz, any more than they have to listen to a very avant garde classical composition. If you can't relate to it, listen to a composition that is not so abstract, that's more in. If some people get prejudiced—they shouldn't do that. But all of life works like that. Regarding influences—everybody has them, especially when you're younger. I presume that somebody like Duke Ellington has influenced the whole music world—indirectly, at least. Some people have been influenced by him directly, and many of us unconsciously, probably, as we have by Charlie Parker, or any of these great masters in music.
To give you an example of what I mean by indirect influence—I love the way Earl "Fatha" Hines plays, but he's never influenced me. That is, consciously, anyway. I never was really that much into Earl Hines when I was a teenager; it wasn't until later years, when I heard him in person, that I began to respect what he was doing. But I was playing a Newport Festival in the `sixties some time—I think it was in Cincinnati—and George Wein was backstage; we were playing "Filthy McNasty", and I was doing something where I was rolling some octaves, you know. And George hollered out: "Earl Hines!" I said: "What the hell is he talking about? I'm not into Earl Hines' style. I'm not even familiar with it." But then after I listened to some things I did, I realised that maybe indirectly somehow I was influenced by him. Like, he might have influenced Nat "King" Cole.
Now, as a teenager, I was influenced a bit by Nat "King" Cole—I used to try to copy some of his things off the records. Maybe it came through that way, indirectly. Pianistically, Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk were my heaviest influences; also different horn players have influenced me. Just possibly, though, in that short span of time that I copied Nat Cole, some of that Earl Hines in Nat Cole came on into me.
Consciously, I'm not aware of it, but it's possible. So you never know where these things come from—they don't have to come directly all the time; they might come through five or six different people. You trace it back, and you say: "Well, wow, that came from Jelly Roll Morton", and you never even heard Jelly Roll, maybe; but somebody else heard him, it came through them, somebody got it from that guy. It passes down the line, and you get a taste of it. Yes, the acoustic piano is undoubtedly the essential expression for me, as a player. I like the electric piano, on occasion. I used to carry my RMI around with me, in 1970, but I got tired of lugging it around, it became expensive in terms of overweight and all of that. And I discovered I was only playing two or three songs a night on it; the rest I was on acoustic. So I just left it at home, you know. But I'll probably use it again.
Well, I probably wouldn't use that particular piano again on record; if I use electric, I'll most likely choose another one. The Fender Rhodes is a fine instrument, but I get so tired of hearing that same sound. I know some other piano players will argue this point with me, but I've heard so many different people on Fender Rhodes on recordings, and it's hard to distinguish their styles. They get on the acoustic piano, you can tell who they are; on the Fender Rhodes, you don't know who they are. Aside from that point, the sound of the Fender Rhodes has become so common; it’s used so much in the rock records and the jazz records. I like the action on the instrument; the piano action is much greater than on my RMI. I really don't like the RMI action; it's like organ action—but I like the sound of it. And I was able to maintain my identity on that instrument; it came through. I used it on "The United States Of Mind" because it was different—everybody else wasn't using it.
On another occasion, I'll be searching again for some other type of electric piano with a distinctive sound of its own. Electric piano can be a blessing, as regards running into some bad acoustic pianos. Although I've been quite lucky lately—they haven't been as bad as they used to be. I think the club-owners are becoming more conscious of the fact that they have to look after their pianos, have them tuned once or twice a week, and have them overhauled and repaired every now and then. Just as a flower responds to love and attention, so does a piano.
You have to take care of it. The bulk of our work is night-clubs; we do jazz festivals and colleges occasionally. Once in a great while we get a dance; that's interesting—challenging, too. You have to go through your repertoire, and pick out the more danceable numbers to play. It's fun, though. We did one in my home town a couple of years ago; we used a singer along with us, and it was very successful. I was quite pleased, because I hadn't played a dance for so many years, you know. We pulled out our suitable selections, with the result that they were out there every tune, dancing. It made me feel good, that we could do that.
Copywright Les Tomkins