No other pianist and composer has the exuberance and talent of the master of funky jazz innovation, ,Horace Silver. Since his early years a creative force in the hardbop movement, Silver has constantly pushed the music into new territory and remains an enduring force in defining the contemporary straight-ahead jazz sound. Now, with Jazz Has a Sense of Humor, his first release on Verve, he makes it clear that his upbeat musical perspective stems from his philosophy on living: having a smile in your heart and on your face will buoy your spirits when facing adversity - and sometimes even chase away the blues.
Jazz Has a Sense of humor is Silver's third collaboration with Grammy-winning executive producer and Verve Music Group Chairman Tommy LiPuma. "He knows what he's doing and we work well together," Silver says. "When we're getting ready to start a new project, I get a concept and give him a slew of material to choose from. Then we each pick the strongest tunes. When we compare notes, we usually pick the same ones."
For this date, Silver chose a hot young band to interpret his tunes: Ryan Kisor (trumpet) from the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra: Mimmy Greene (tenor and soprano sax) who plays with Avishai Cohen: John Webber (bass) a rising star from Chicago: and Willie Jones III (drums), who gigs regularly with Roy Hargrove. Silver, who is a master at getting a quintet sound that's spacious and full, liberally showcases these up-and-coming players, giving each ample room to step out and shine.
Silver's love of a good laugh and his sly, sometimes even slightly naughty, sense of fun is evident throughout Jazz Has a Sense of Humor. "I listened to an interview with Duke Ellington once," he recalls. "The interviewer asked him if he thought humor was important in music and Duke said, "if it doesn't have humor, it's nothing,.' These tunes, titles and lyrics, for the most part, share a light-hearted approach. Of course, some of my tunes have a more serious, profound depth, but I usually like to stay on the humorous side." Silver, who is featured on piano throughout this release, penned lyrics for most of these tunes. Though not sung, they are printed in the CD's liner notes, and reveal much about the composer's own sense of humor - as well as his perspectives on love and romance.
"Ah-Ma-Tell," for example, is downright silly, even reminiscent of childhood taunts, and was inspired by some rock beats Silver heard on television. "I went to the piano and started foolin' around. Wrote the tune first and then the lyrics, which is usually how I write," he adds. Kisor and Greene punch out the recurring theme with crisp boldness, helping Silver to drive home the indelible image in his lyrics.
Two tunes - "Philley Millie" and "Gloria" - have a more romantic them. "I dig the lyrics on "Gloria", one of my more clever tunes," Silver concedes. "It's got a Latin feel and I love Latin music. The guys played really well on this one." The closing tune, "Where Do I Go From Here" is, he says, "a question everybody asks themselves sometime in life. It's about stumbling blocks and all that."
Silver's music reflects his roots, as well his openness to all types of music, embracing Broadway tunes, musicals, and classical music as much as jazz, rock, blues, and folk. His mother and father were African American and Cape Verdean, respectively, and Silver grew up listening to Gospel music in the Baptist Church, though he was equally attracted to the blues, Latin rhythms, and African folk music. "It feels great to be called a legend," he admits. "It's something I never would have dreamed of in my earlier years."
He started his musical studies with classical piano lessons and played both tenor and baritone sax in Norwalk, Connecticut. In later years, Silver parlayed this abiding affection for brass into an instantly recognizable trademark: for more than four decades, his quintets have prominently featured trumpet and sax to stunning effect. "It's not only that Iike the horns up front in quintets: it's what we started out with, what I'm widely known for. And people love us for it. People will accept Horace Silver in other configurations," he adds, citing the seven-piece ensemble he recorded for Hardbop Grandpop (his 1996 Impulse! Debut) and his use of vocals in U. S. State of Mind (one of several acclaimed releases during his 28-year tenure at Blue Note). "I like to change up but I always return to the quintet," as he did in his 1997 Impulse! Recording, A Prescription For The Blues.
Silver's powerful percussive bass lines and buoyant, almost dancing, melodic touch, propelled jazz into uncharted territory. His 1954 gospel-inspired hit, "The Preacher", recorded with his band, the original Jazz Messengers, gave birth to the "soul" movement in jazz - and established Silver as a leader in a new direction of jazz, one that took a sharp 180-degree turn away from the more cerebral bebop style then so prevalent. (That same year, he recorded the historic hardbop classic, "Walkin," with Miles Davis, and "Opus De Funk,") Two years later, leaving the Jazz Messengers in Art Blakely's capable hands, he started his first quintet. Silver is now widely regarded as one of the great composer/melodists whose beloved compositions- "Song For My Father," "Senor Blues," "Doodlin'," "Nica's Dream," "Sister Sadie," and countless others - are core jazz repertory.
Through the years, he has tirelessly mentored and showcased countless new talents - Joe Henderson, the Brecker Brothers, Blue Mitchell, Woody Shaw, Louis Hayes, and others among them - and now the bright young players on Jazz Has a Sense of Humor join their ranks.
Silver feels strongly about his responsibility to pass on what he knows, acknowledging the value of the lessons he learned while developing his distinctive style and gaining confidence as a performer. "I received help from so many. Stan Getz discovered me in Connecticut and got me on the road to my career," recalling the Getz trio he toured and recorded with in 1950-51.
Throughout the early '50s, he was an active sideman at Birdland, where he backed such artists as Getz, Terry Gibbs, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and many others. "Miles (Davis), Art Blakely . I learned something from each one of them," Silver states.
"The guys who concentrated on the small combo, there all gone," said Silver, citing the passing of Blakely, Miles, Dizzy Gillespi, and Cannonball Adderly. "Older cats with a wealth of experience, there aren't too many of us left," Silver continues. "Jimmy (Greene) told me I'm gonna pick your brain' and I said, 'Great! It's yours to pick.' I'm glad to help these guys."