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Farewell: Horace Silver

9.2.28-6.18.14

Horace Silver
Horace Silver at Lee Morgan's "Indeed!" session, November 1956

It was way back in ’67-I was 21-when I joined Horace Silver’s band. It was a great opportunity. He broke the band up after a year and a half. My brother Mike and I joined what became Dreams, did that for a couple of years, and when that broke up we rejoined Horace for another year.

Horace was quite the mentor. I think he’s had more influence on me as a musician or bandleader than anyone. He was the best of both worlds: He let us stretch out on certain tunes, while other tunes were more funk-oriented and he wanted us to maintain a funk attitude.

He also taught me not to be verbose or play too long; you had to make a statement, and he didn’t like long solos. I remember once we were listening to some saxophone player, and the guy was playing a bunch of choruses. Horace said in my ear, “Listen, the guy’s already starting to repeat himself!” In 1997, when Mike and I did A Prescription for the Blues with Horace, my brother got carried away on a tune and played a lot of notes. And Horace, in the middle of the take, stopped the whole thing. He chastised Mike: “I told you I didn’t want any 16th notes on this tune!” He was serious about what he wanted, when he wanted it.

Horace had a very spiritual outlook; he thought music was for healing. And he cautioned all of us about using drugs and things that we shouldn’t-not that we paid attention to him at the time. But he related most things to healing, and had a definite spiritual side to him. A lot of things that he lectured us about, I try now to use as a springboard, so to speak.

He was also notoriously thrifty. He saved every receipt, and he didn’t pay much; by the end of the week we usually ended up owing him money. We’d have to find the cheapest hotel in town: I remember in San Francisco, we had one that was 15 dollars a week! So you can imagine what that was like. Horace was in splendor up the street, paying eight dollars a night. He explained to me at one point that his father had taught him the value of thrift … and thrifty he was. But the gig was so much fun that we weren’t in it for the money.

We stayed in touch after he moved to Malibu. He was always very nice to me in the ensuing years. I knew his wife, Barbara, and I was around when his son, Gregory, was born. In 2007-and I remember this clearly, because it was only about a week after my brother passed away-there was a large tribute to Horace held at Disney Hall in L.A., and Horace was there. He was somewhat ill; he was in a wheelchair. But we dedicated the whole night to him and played all his tunes, with various all-star bands of people who had played with him. So that was a wonderful evening and that was really the last time I saw him.

It hit me hard when he died. I did have time to prepare, to think about it, but I think it hit all of us who knew him hard. Horace was one of a kind.

[As told to Michael J. West]

Originally Published