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Jazz masters jam at Stanford
STANFORD -- Jazz pianist Horace Silver missed the concert at Stanford's Braun Music Center July 29 that honored the bebop, soul, gospel, blues and funk classics he has composed over the past 45 years -- but he had a good excuse. At 66, he recently formed a new group -- the 10- member Silver/Brass Ensemble -- and was rehearsing for a gig that opened Aug. 1 in Los Angeles.
On Aug. 6, Silver will lay down his conductor's baton and head north to join the faculty of the Stanford Jazz Workshop. Together with Grammy Award-winning bassist Ray Brown, pianist Benny Green, saxophonist Steve Coleman and others, Silver will teach at the Jazz Residency that runs through Aug. 12. The annual workshop has drawn top musicians for more than 20 years. This year, two of the three winners of the 1995 American Jazz Masters Fellowships awarded by the National Endowment for the Arts -- Silver and Brown -- are on the faculty.
Silver and the 69-year-old Brown continue to make headlines at jazz festivals worldwide. Brown has just returned from a seven-week tour of Europe, and Silver performed most recently at the Spoleto Festival in South Carolina and at the Mt. Fuji Festival in Tokyo. During the week that they'll be together at Stanford, however, teaching will be their top priority.
Brown, who used to hold jazz workshops at UCLA, currently teaches between 10 and 15 master classes in different corners of the globe each year. It's hard work, he says -- "harder than you think."
"It can be very frustrating, too," he added in a recent telephone interview from his home in Los Angeles. "If you can't get through to people and they aren't learning what you're trying to teach them, you start thinking maybe you don't have it any more.
"Still, I think if you've been blessed with a talent to play an instrument, you have to pass some of that stuff on to others before you leave here."
Silver, who played with such legends as Stan Getz, Lester Young and Art Blakey, echoes that thought, noting, "I went through the ranks, playing with the great masters, and I like the idea of trying to pass that information along."
For years, he said by phone from his home in Malibu, he never considered himself a teacher. "But all the young guys who came along with my bands said they learned things, whether I thought I was teaching them or not."
Silver has just published The Art of Small Combo Jazz Playing, Composing and Arranging, a collection of musical fundamentals and practical tips he compiled when he was on the faculty at El Camino College in Torrance.
"I taught there for a couple of years, trying to help youngsters," he says. "And finally I said to myself, 'Maybe you'd better put what you've been teaching into a book so you won't have to go to every school in the country.' So I sat down and wrote it all out."
Silver chats at a pace that would leave musicians half his age breathless, while Brown is given to long pauses between occasional one-word answers. The pianist bubbles about his work at a full boil, while the bassist punctuates his sly observations with deep laughter drawn from a well of experience.
Silver grew up with the Cape Verdean music of his father's home island and the gospel singing of his mother's Methodist church, and was turned on to jazz at age 10 by Jimmie Lunceford's orchestra. Stan Getz discovered Silver in 1950, and the young pianist spent several years touring with Getz and playing New York clubs. After the breakup of the first group he formed, the renowned Jazz Messengers, Silver launched the Horace Silver Quintet, which went on to become one of the most popular jazz groups of the late 1950s.
While audiences still ask for "Sister Sadie," "Filthy McNasty" and "Señor Blues," Silver's signature composition remains "Song for My Father," which he recorded in 1964 with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson. The two performers will be reunited next week when the Grammy Award-winning tenor saxophonist comes to campus Aug. 9 to perform with the Ray Brown Trio.
Brown made his mark early, as a member of Dizzy Gillespie's first big band in the 1940s, then went on to play with the Oscar Peterson Trio until it disbanded in 1966. After moving to the West Coast, Brown worked as Quincy Jones' manager, produced concerts for the Hollywood Bowl and played in the orchestra for the Merv Griffin Show. He has been musical director for both the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Concord Summer Festival, and his list of awards includes the top jazz trophies -- a Grammy, Jazz Critic's Poll Awards, Downbeat Reader's Poll Awards and this year's American Jazz Masters Fellowship from the NEA.
"That one is special because it's one of the few awards that comes with money," Brown says of the $20,000 prize. "And besides that, it's nice to get anything that resembles some kind of honor while you're still alive."
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