January 16, 2010

Spoken Silhouettes In Silver

When Horace Silver once wrote out his rules for musical composition (in the liner notes to the 1968 record, Serenade to a Soul Sister), he expounded on the importance of "meaningful simplicity." The pianist could have just as easily been describing his own life. For more than fifty years, Silver has simply written some of the most enduring tunes in jazz while performing them in a distinctively personal style. It's all been straight forward enough, while decades of incredible experiences have provided the meaning.

Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva was born in Norwalk, Connecticut on September 2, 1928. His father had immigrated to the United States from Cape Verde---and that island nation's Portuguese influences would play a big part in Silver's own music later on. When Silver was a teenager, he began playing both piano and saxophone while he listened to everything from boogie-woogie and blues to such modern musicians as Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. As Silver's piano trio was working in Hartford, Connecticut, the group received saxophonist Stan Getz's attention in 1950. The saxophonist brought the band on the road and recorded three of Silver's compositions.

In 1951, Silver moved to New York City where he accompanied saxophonists Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and many other legends. In the following year, he met the executives at Blue Note while working as a sideman for saxophonist Lou Donaldson. This meeting led to Silver signing with the label where he would remain until 1980. He also collaborated with Art Blakey in forming the Jazz Messengers during the early 1950s (which Blakey would continue to lead after Silver formed his own quintet in 1956).

During these years, Silver helped create the rhythmically forceful branch of jazz known as "hard bop" (chronicled in David H. Rosenthal's 1992 book, Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music, 1955-1965). He based much of his own writing on blues and gospel---the latter is particularly prominent on one of his biggest tunes, "The Preacher." While his compositions at this time featured surprising tempo shifts and a range of melodic ideas, they immediately caught the attention of a wide audience. Silver's own piano playing easily shifted from aggressively percussive to lushly romantic within just a few bars. At the same time, his sharp use of repetition was funky even before that word could be used in polite company. Along with Silver's own work, his bands often featured such rising jazz stars as saxophonists Junior Cook and Hank Mobley, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, and drummer Louis Hayes. Some of his key albums from this period included Horace Silver Trio (1953), Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (1955), Six Pieces of Silver (1956) and Blowin' The Blues Away (1959), which includes his famous, "Sister Sadie." He also combined jazz with a sassy take on pop through the 1961 hit, "Filthy McNasty."

But it was a few years later when Silver would record one of his most famous songs, the title track to his 1964 album, "Song For My Father." That piece combined his dad's take on Cape Verdean folk music (with a hint of Brazilian Carnival rhythms) into an enduring F-minor jazz composition. Over the years, it has become an American popular music standard, covered not only by scores of instrumentalists, but also such singers as James Brown.

As social and cultural upheavals shook the nation during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Silver responded to these changes through music. He commented directly on the new scene through a trio of records called United States of Mind (1970-1972) that featured the spirited vocals of Andy Bey. The composer got deeper into cosmic philosophy as his group, Silver 'N Strings, recorded Silver 'N Strings Play The Music of the Spheres (1979).
After Silver's long tenure with Blue Note ended, he continued to create vital music. The 1985 album, Continuity of Spirit (Silveto), features his unique orchestral collaborations. In the 1990s, Silver directly answered the urban popular music that had been largely built from his influence on It's Got To Be Funky (Columbia, 1993). On Jazz Has A Sense of Humor (Verve, 1998), he shows his younger group of sidemen the true meaning of the music.

Now living surrounded by a devoted family in California, Silver has received much of the recognition due a venerable jazz icon. In 2005, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) gave him its President's Merit Award. Silver is also anxious to tell the world his life story in his own words as he just completed writing his autobiography, Let's Get To The Nitty Gritty (University of California Press, scheduled for fall 2006 release).

From the perspective of the early 2000's, it is clear that few jazz musicians have had a greater impact on the contemporary mainstream than Horace Silver. The hard bop style that Silver pioneered in the '50s is now dominant, played not only by holdovers from an earlier generation, but also by fuzzy-cheeked musicians who had yet to be born when the music fell out of critical favor in the '60s and '70s.

Silver's earliest musical influence was the Cape Verdean folk music he heard from his Portuguese-born father. Later, after he had begun playing piano and saxophone as a high schooler, Silver came under the spell of blues singers and boogie-woogie pianists, as well as boppers like Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell. In 1950, Stan Getz played a concert in Hartford, CT, with a pickup rhythm section that included Silver, drummer Walter Bolden, and bassist Joe Calloway. So impressed was Getz, he hired the whole trio. Silver had been saving his money to move to New York anyway; his hiring by Getz sealed the deal.

Silver worked with Getz for a year, then began to freelance around the city with such big-time players as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, and Oscar Pettiford. In 1952, he recorded with Lou Donaldson for the Blue Note label; this date led him to his first recordings as a leader. In 1953, he joined forces with Art Blakey to form a cooperative under their joint leadership. The band's first album, Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers, was a milestone in the development of the genre that came to be known as hard bop. Many of the tunes penned by Silver for that record — "The Preacher," "Doodlin'," "Room 608" — became jazz classics. By 1956, Silver had left the Messengers to record on his own. The series of Blue Note albums that followed established Silver for all time as one of jazz's major composer/pianists. LPs like Blowin' the Blues Away and Song for My Father (both recorded by an ensemble that included Silver's longtime sidemen Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook) featured Silver's harmonically sophisticated and formally distinctive compositions for small jazz ensemble.

Silver's piano style — terse, imaginative, and utterly funky — became a model for subsequent mainstream pianists to emulate. Some of the most influential horn players of the '50s, '60s, and '70s first attained a measure of prominence with Silver — musicians like Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, Benny Golson, and the Brecker Brothers all played in Silver's band at a point early in their careers. Silver has even affected members of the avant-garde; Cecil Taylor confesses a Silver influence, and trumpeter Dave Douglas played briefly in a Silver combo.

Silver recorded exclusively for Blue Note until that label's eclipse in the late '70s, whereupon he started his own label, Silveto. Silver's '80s work was poorly distributed. During that time he began writing lyrics to his compositions; his work began to display a concern with music's metaphysical powers, as exemplified by album titles like Music to Ease Your Disease and Spiritualizing the Senses. In the '90s, Silver abandoned his label venture and began recording for Columbia. With his re-emergence on a major label, Silver is once again receiving a measure of the attention his contribution deserves. Certainly, no one has ever contributed a larger and more vital body of original compositions to the jazz canon.

To Visit Horace Silver's website CLICK HERE

Heidi Bacon, formerly known as Heidi Phillips-West, has been rightfully dubbed “Raw” by her fellow poets. Her highly illustrative words evoke strong emotions from her readers and listeners alike as she breathes life into words with each drop of magical ink which drips from her pen. The brilliance displayed between the lines of Raw’s poetic mastery thrusts her readers deep into the recesses of their very own minds and causes spiritual reflection as they read and reflect. Raw is a voice of inspiration seldom seen nor heard on the spoken word circuit these days. Her fresh style of mixing “pretty on paper poetry” with spoken word captures the attention of many. Raw speaks very vividly and detailed on the life she has led, gaining her the title “Raw”. She is known for spilling the grit of her life history, and this allows others to see themselves in and through her.

Heidi was born in Wurzburg, Germany to an alcoholic, Schizophrenic US Army soldier father who brutally abused her beautiful mother on March 13, 1971. They came to the states when Raw was an infant. Hers was a repugnant childhood, enduring endless exhibitions of her father’s reproachful and abusive behavior mentally, emotionally, and physically. From the age of 5 until she was 12, his hands of guardianship were used to defile her sexually…and this is where her nightmares began. It would take almost 30 years for them to end.

Growing up, Raw was always the ray of sunshine in the midst of the storm. She was the one always trying to make people smile. When there were arguments or conflicts in the home, she would try to fast talk or entertain to take the focus away from the controversy, and put the spotlight on herself. At age 14, Raw decided she couldn’t stay at home any longer, and she ventured out into the world as the “Master Mouthed Con Artist” (one of her spoken word pieces from her Bruised but never Broken CD). Raw used her ability to fast talk and “think on her toes” to talk her way into, or out of, whatever she needed. Life on the street took her through domestic abuse, rape, multiple miscarriages, and even the horrifying experience of being a witness to murder.

Estranged from her husband while single-handedly mothering their infant son, 22 year old Raw’s ability to slick talk any and everybody came to an end the day she met her match in a Michigan judge who sentenced her to 4 to 12 years in prison for crimes of a fraudulent nature. At age 25, she was released from prison, in a one week attempted reconciliation of her marriage her second child was conceived…a daughter. Raw decided she would not go back to a miserable marriage for the sake of “doing it for the children”. She had been raised in a home where her mother “did it for the children”…and it brought nothing but pain. She refused to do THAT to her children. She was determined to do it on her own; she already was anyhow with her son.

While pregnant with her daughter, Raw was befriended by a constant supporter and confidant…a man who swept her off her feet and ended up becoming her second husband and the father of her third child. Eight years later, her marriage ended while she was attending seminary at Cornerstone University in Grand Rapids, Michigan when she returned from being offered the job opportunity of a lifetime. Raw had been asked to pilot a program for women in transition at a church in Washington, D.C. Her husband refused to allow her to take the job. After she declined the position in writing… Raw found out the reason her husband did not want to leave Michigan was infidelity…he had a girlfriend.

This led Raw to a nervous breakdown; she left the state of Michigan and moved to Indiana with her three children. In Indiana, she looked to find clarity and a better life. Three months after she moved there, she found out her mother was dying of Cancer of an Unknown Primary. It took two months for the poison to ravage her entire body before she died. Raw was devastated. This is when she picked up a pen.

Raw began to spill the blood of her grief in beautifully passionate lines. She drew her readers so deep inside that they were there when her mother didn’t know her name three days before she died. They were there in bed with her Mama when the death rattle began rolling ‘round in her frail chest. They were there as the last breath exhaled from the lungs of the dying. Her readers saw the beauty of death through Raw’s eyes. When Raw sat back and reread the first two pieces of poetry she wrote, she realized she was able to purge the pain from within, and therein lay the therapy she had been seeking all her life.

And so it began, thousands of masterpieces of brilliant poetry were born. The poetic children born from generational curses placed upon her DNA, Raw fed the taste of her blood to her readers through the ink of her nouns and verbs at unbelievable rates, sometimes penning 15-20 pieces per day…leaving her readers astounded that she had just begun writing.

A year into her “therapy”, Tshombe Harris, taught Raw how to use her wings of Poetry to FLY, He introduced her to the world of Spoken Word. She started recording her work. Where her work was once known for being “pretty on paper”…it had transcended, and Raw began to be known for the intensive passion that dripped from her passionate voice as vocal chords vibrated poetic harmony.

Today Raw has self published her novel “Chronicles of my Ghetto Street” under her pen name, Marie Fontaine. She wrote this book only one year into her writing career. The book is a combination of poetry and prose, and she published it merely wanting to see her words in print. She has not released anything else since, for she has taken the last three years to grow as a person and a writer first. During this process, Raw went through one of the most difficult experiences of her life. After growing up and seeing her mother go through the abuse she suffered, Raw had been desensitized…unable to recognize the signs of her own abuse. On the brink of death, Raw realized she had become just like her mother. She fought for her life for the sake of her children. Using her ink to go back in time and purge the residual pain from over 30 years of trauma, Raw rose above her circumstances and stood victorious upon a mountain of broken chains of generational curses.

Raw currently lives in Indianapolis, Indiana with her fiancĂ©’ and her children. She is seen frequently on the open mic circuit there, and most recently was featured at Clarence Motley’s “Poet’s Night Out”, and participated in “The Violet Project 3” to benefit the Julian Center domestic violence shelter. From now until March 4, 2010; Raw is also serving as the National Director of Events for the March Forth for Freedom Movement. On March 4, 2010; she will be coordinating, and performing, in a spoken word rally outside of the Marion County Jail in Indianapolis, Indiana. Raw will be the featured poet at the Midtown Lounge in Indianapolis, Indiana on April 18, 2010 at 9:00 p.m. Her tour is set to kick off tentatively in late April, beginning in Atlanta, Georgia; with stops in North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Colorado, Texas, and Florida.

The first of Raw’s two part memoir “Bruised But Never Broken” will be released on her 39th birthday: March 13th, 2010 along with her Spoken Word CD and poetry book of the same title. On January 20th, 2010 she will also be releasing “Whisper Me--Poems of Erotic Artistry” and “Inhalations of Eros”, in time for Valentine’s Day purchase. The tentative release date for part two of “Bruised But Never Broken” is June 2010.

Heidi Bacon is a resilient woman who has fought her way through every trial and tribulation imaginable… and when asked how she can pour so much of herself into her poetry… how she can be so open with her personal life the way she does and do it so passionately… her answer is simply: “Because I have to. Somebody out there is going to need it. Somebody is going to hear it, and be helped by it. I don’t have a choice anymore. Somebody told me I gave them hope one day. That’s when I realized I can’t ever stop doing this… and I can’t do it half-ass. This is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. This is my purpose. I was given these words as a gift and I’m supposed to share them with the world…and that’s what I’m doing. I’m sharing them. They’re not my words… they’re everybody else’s… and I’m just giving them away so that they can heal someone else too…the same way that they healed me.”

Heidi Bacon (formerly Phillips-West) can be found on Facebook under Heidi “Raw” Phillips-West. Her email address is sahabah2007@gmail.com. Her website; Ink Palpitations is currently under construction, but is due to be up and running by the beginning of February.

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