A Note from Chick Corea, on Horace Silver’s The Art Of Small Combo Jazz Playing, Composing & Arranging:
…to aspiring musicians and Horace fans: I suggest that, in addition to studying these original scores as Horace wrote them, you also continue to improve your ear training by taking some of Horace’s other works and transcribing them yourself. It’s a great way to improve your ability to “hear the notes” and to notate them yourself.
On the 61st anniversary of the original recording, I performed the music of Horace Silver’s Doin’ The Thing Live At The Village Gate with my band, The Michelle Tucker Quintet. The following is an attempt to catalog some thoughts and ideas that grew alongside the listening, transcribing, and practice that the project involved.
My first attempts at this kind of thing began in 2015 or so when I led the house band for Luna Sessions, a weekly jam session at The Luna Theater in Lowell, MA. The house band’s set featured a special theme most weeks, stuff like “Art Blakey’s A Night At Birdland” or “The Music of Hank Mobley.” We performed Philly Joe Jones’ Blues For Dracula on Halloween a couple years in a row. In July of 2020 when my daughter Maisie was born, with the hope of Luna Sessions eventual return after the pandemic – and also to pass the time while sitting up in a rocking chair at all hours of the night – I began to build a calendar of birthdays and recording/release dates for potential themes. Eventually, while clicking through Horace Silver’s discography I came across Doin’ The Thing and added the recording dates of May 19th and 20th, 1961 to the calendar. I wasn’t actually familiar with the recording at the time, I just sort of tucked it away for future use.
It becomes clear pretty quickly, once you start digging through this music, that there is really too much to listen to in one lifetime. The obvious example to use here would be Horace Silver and the hundred or so recordings he played on – at least by wikipedia’s count – but one of my favorite examples is Hank Mobley – who in less than two years time, between February 1960 and December 1961 – recorded four quintessential Hard Bop albums under his own name; Soul Station, Roll Call, Workout and Another Workout in addition to working with Miles Davis on Someday My Prince Will Come (as well as live recordings At The Blackhawk and Carnegie Hall) as well as recordings with Freddie Hubbard, Kenny Dorham and Kenny Drew. That’s just under two years of one person’s contribution to the music; it doesn’t include any of his work with Art Blakey, Lee Morgan or Donald Byrd. It doesn’t include the 14 additional recordings under his name over the next decade nevermind the recordings he contributed to post-1961 including Herbie Hancock, Grant Green and Elvin Jones among others. I consider Mobley to be one of my favorite composers and horn players and it occurs to me that I am probably familiar with less than half of the music that he wrote or recorded.
I don’t want to make it seem like you need to be an ethnomusicologist to play this music. Jazz is an aural tradition though; the music, and the musicians playing it, have slowly reinvented themselves several times over in a century’s long game of telephone. It may sound funny, or overly simplistic, but listening has always been the most integral part of learning this music. You always hear stories like the one where Charlie Parker gets kicked off stage at some jam session but then memorizes a bunch of Lester Young solos and goes back to the jam session and blows everyone away. You also hear about Sonny playing on the bridge though – note; playing – and if you’re a drummer, like me, you’ve probably heard stories of a young Tony Williams’ and his prolific practice habits. This disparity, listening vs. playing, is one of the ways I think of jazz as a sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The truth is somewhere in between, a little of each.
I learned a lot about how to play while onstage at Luna, and have pretty much always thought about that gig in those terms – the playing – though, I’m starting to realize how much I got out of the listening I did each week. Once the setlist was settled I’d make a playlist for myself. The goal was to be able to sing each tune cold – if you can sing something you can probably play it. I’d listen in the car driving back and forth from school, singing along while sitting in traffic. I would practice along with the tunes, sometimes learning heads or tricky spots, sometimes just playing rudiments or playing some time. (I worked on singing Cool Eyes a bunch, which I unfortunately didn’t get a recording of because my phone died. One neat thing of note that I couldn’t really fit anywhere else – Cool Eyes, which was recorded on Six Pieces of Silver as well as Doin’ The Thing, is really a frankenstein comprised of a new 16 bar A section with some hits and stuff and the A and B sections of To Beat Or Not To Beat from Silver’s Blue)
Before taking on this project, I thought was I pretty familiar with Horace Silver’s music (though his discography, like Hank Mobley’s, would probably disagree with me.) We featured him several times at Luna and most of the tunes on A Night At Birdland were written by him. His tunes Nutville and Nica’s Dream were regulars in my own band’s sets. The tunes on Doin’ The Thing have many of the characteristics that initially drew me to Horace’s music; lots of uptempo latin and bebop like The Gringo and Cool eyes, ensemble ideas like the background figures, solis and shout sections in Filthy McNasty and Doin’ The Thing, as well as a lot of interaction with the rhythm section, the first half of Cool Eyes, Kiss Me Right, and the intro and turnaround in Filthy McNasty are all great examples.
As I listened over the course of the project I noticed a couple of things that, to me, were less a hallmark so to speak, and more about this band’s specific dialect – as in where they grew up and who they learned to speak the language from. To be honest, I’m not sure that I’m qualified or capable of discussing the nuance in Junior Cook’s tone or Blue Mitchell’s phrasing, but I’ll talk a bit about the feel that Horace and Roy Brooks play behind the solos in Filthy McNasty though; a boogie woogie sort of thing with Brooks playing straight-ish 8th notes on the snare. It’s not something you hear on most records and it makes total sense how it ended up on this record when you read a bit about where Roy and Horace grew up and learned the music; Horace’s earlier influences were blues and boogie woogie pianists like Meade Lux Lewis – Brooks grew up in Detroit, MI – a training ground for boogie woogie pianists that came up from the south in the 20’s before moving on to Chicago where all the record labels were (that last tidbit thanks to the “Music of Detroit” wikipedia article.)
Jazz has always had different styles or dialects. East Coast vs. West Coast, “The Kansas City Sound”, even Benny Golson’s Philadelphians. As the game of telephone became several games, we lost some of the sounds that made Kansas City sound like Kansas City or The Horace Silver Quintet sound like The Horace Silver Quintet in the process. It probably has to do with certain records influencing the direction of the music more than others for whatever reason (say Kind of Blue vs. Doin’ The Thing) as well as technology making those recordings more accessible than others (and probably popular culture pushing those records more, The Ken Burns’ Jazz effect, maybe.) When we lose these sounds, these dialects, we lose nuance in the music. The feel in tunes like Filthy McNasty or Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder or the hits in a tune like Stablemates are lost and those tunes just become another mid tempo swinger (kinda like how MLB broadcasters all used to have their own unique style, each team had a different voice; Vin Scully with The Dodgers, Jack Buck with The Cardinals…later Joe Castiglione here in Boston. Now they all just kinda sound like Don Orsillo – Orsillo is fine, but he’s nothing without Jerry Remy.)
You know that poster “Jazz As A Family Tree”? It was probably hanging on the wall in your band room in high school next to that Vic Firth one with all the rudiments. It’s sort of a visual depiction of the game of telephone I keep talking about. It is technically how I first came across Doin’ The Thing (and now also several great records by Blue Mitchell, Junior Cook and Roy Brooks) The most useful or practical version of what I’m talking about though, is actually wikipedia. Follow me; if you click on Kind of Blue you’ll see links to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. Click on Wynton Kelly or Paul Chambers then click on either of their discographies and you might find Hank Mobley’s Soul Station which featured Art Blakey on drums, go take a look at his discography and via one of the many recordings they made together you can make your way over to Horace Silver and Doin’ The Thing. So, all you really need to learn this music and its many dialects is the desire and a good amount of time to dedicate to finding and listening to the records.
Earlier I said something like, “it may sound overly simplistic, but listening has always been the most integral part of learning this music.” This project was my way of putting that theory into practice. The more you listen to one recording, or one composer, one soloist, the more you hear the characteristics or hallmarks of their sound, the way they speak the language. Like, “how did Horace harmonize parts for two horns?” (lots of octaves and thirds, but some occasional dissonance like a second) or “how are the harmony and rhythm connected in this part?” (this one! I wrote a tune because of this one. Check out the intro to Filthy McNasty. The rhythm and the chromatic movement feel linked to me) or even just simple questions of phrasing and vocabulary (Brooks has some really excellent solo vocabulary AND on the tune Doin’ The Thing he plays Max Roach’s For Big Sid, first a variation of, then verbatim. This is five years before Roach recorded that tune on Drums Unlimited!)
Art Blakey once said, “If you feel like tapping your feet, tap your feet. If you feel like clapping your hands, clap your hands. And if you feel like taking off your shoes, take off your shoes. We are here to have a ball.” It’s easy to forget, in all of this study, all of this “jazz is an aural tradition” stuff, that this all used to be dance music. It’s another Jekyll and Hyde thing. Jazz is supposed to be a ball but jazz is also serious music and you better have a nice black suit or whatever. My last takeaway from this record; jazz can be serious and still be a ball. Doin’ The Thing captures a “serious” band having a ton of fun, and the music (and the audience) reflect that. I’m starting to understand what it’s like to “have a ball “on stage, and I think I play differently as a result, I’m more relaxed, better able to play what I feel – and less tripped up when my hands won’t play what I feel – One of my student’s parents approached me the morning after the concert to say how much they enjoyed the music, they pointeded out how happy the band seemed, how much fun everyone seemed to be having. That we were able to convey a little bit of the joy that lives in this music is quite possibly the best compliment we could have received and whatever the actual lessons learned were – still working on that as you can see – it was a nice experience to add to my own personal game of telephone.
Below you can find the recordings from the concert on May 20th. There are some bumps and bruises that I left in (and one that I’ll admit was easy enough to edit out, so I did.) They were recorded on an iphone that’s probably about 4 or 5 years old with a Shure MV88 from the balcony. I do think these recordings could have sounded a bit better than they do, technology has never been my strong suit, but I’m proud of the project as a whole so here it is, enjoy.