Let´s Get To The Nitty Gritty
BOOK REVIEW By Willard Manus

When writer Phil Pastras began working with Horace Silver on his autobiography LET'S GET TO THE NITTY GRITTY (University of California Press), he remembered mostly "the Horace Silver of the late 1950s to the late 1960s. Back then, I was living in the New York/New Jersey area and went to hear the Blue Mitchell-Junior Cook version of the quintet as often as possible. Many still regard that as the archetypical Horace Silver Quintet; it certainly was the longest-lived version, and, until recently, it was the group that came to mind whenever I heard the words 'Horace Silver Quintet.' Certainly, it was one of the greatest groups of all time."

But as Pastras admits, when he finally got around to investigating Silver's post-1970 musical output he discovered that the pianist/composer had produced a vast body of equally important work. Much of it was released on his own Silveto label, though, and failed to find national distribution. Also, the number of radio stations that played jazz began to dwindle. As a result, Silver was pushed to the margins of the business and lost favor with the public. It wasn't until he returned to recording with major companies in the 90s that his work achieved prominence again.

Today Silver is considered one of jazz's elder statesman and it's from that lofty perch that he looks back on his life and reflects on it. It's been quite a life. Born in Connecticut in 1928 to poor, Catholic African-American parents, he began playing tenor and piano as a teenager. Early influences were The Jimmy Lunceford Band, the Symphony Sid and Martin Block jazz radio programs, and the 52nd Street post-war jazz scene (Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Tatum. etc).

His first major gig was with Stan Getz, followed by recordings with Coleman Hawkins, Lou Donaldson, Art Farmer, Lester Young and many other major musicians, culminating in his joining the Jazz Messengers. Silver made his mark not only as a soloist, but as a composer, arranger and lyricist. He also went out of his way to learn the practical side of the business: copywriting, marketing, publicity, booking, etc.

Silver's personal life takes up a significant part of the book: dealing with racism and police brutality; enjoying friendships with the likes of Getz, Young, Davis and Tatum (his mentor and inspiration); marriage, fatherhood (his son is a rap composer), divorce, girlfriends, and so on. The most important thing about Silver, though, is his deeply spiritual nature.

"With religion as well as with my music, I like to dabble in more than one concept," he explains. "Beginning in 1970, the study of metaphysics led me to write and record The United States of Mind, a musical work in three parts...I wrote this not as a teacher or preacher but as a student who wished to share the beauty of these teachings with others, hoping that they, too, would benefit, as I have, from these teachings."

For Silver music is the highest art form "because it not only reaches the bodies and minds of people but also can reach straight through to the soul."

Music should be entertaining as well as uplifting, he adds. "God has blessed the composer with a precious gift that can be used to uplift the minds of people or help them stagnate...Let us demand not to be treated like children when it comes to listening to music. We want music with depth, beauty and uplift. We will not be satisfied with mundane music. We refuse to listen to or support it. Composers, open your minds and give us something of lasting value," are Silver's concluding words.