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July/August 2006

Horace Silver/Phil Pastras, editor
Let’s Get to the Nitty Gritty: The Autobiography of Horace Silver

Excerpted in the April 2006 issue of JazzTimes, this autobiography of pianist/bandleader/ composer Horace Silver contains some excellent primary source material on the genesis of modern jazz. Silver’s founding of the Jazz Messengers and his influential recordings for Blue Note ensure his special place in jazz history. Unfortunately, as with many autobiographies, some periods are more interesting than others. Silver has some entertaining stories about working with Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Oscar Pettiford and other jazz greats. During the ’50s when bebop and drug abuse went hand in hand, Silver was a veritable paragon of clean living, and that disparity helps to explain his professional disconnect from many of the players of that period. After his family’s apartment was burglarized, Silver moved to California in 1974 and essentially left behind the vibrant New York jazz scene.

Silver’s account of his life and career post-1970 is less captivating for the average jazz fan, in part because he was less active as a recording artist and also because he is most preoccupied with explaining his unique blend of spirituality and metaphysics—not that there’s anything wrong with psychic experiences, mediums, astrology and dowsing. Silver is assisted by Phil Pastras, who did his best to make the narrative flow and added an earnest afterword explaining Silver’s legacy. Silver may be one of the great songwriters in jazz, thanks to timeless gems like “Song for My Father” and “Sister Sadie,” but writing a book is another matter entirely. He does tell his tale in a warm and modest way, so readers may simply give him the benefit of the doubt, like listening to the father of the bride play drums at his daughter’s wedding.

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