Courtesy of Alan Silva


Albert Ayler, in an interview, once explained, "I believe when I talk to somebody, I must communicate to them...I must communicate with their spirit that comes within the soul and the heart." Alan Silva, featured bassist on Ayler's In Greenwich Village sessions, has maintained the creed and three decades after Ayler's death, Silva (unedited and in his own words) is identified as one of the preeminent bassists on either side of the Atlantic.

FRED JUNG: Let's start from the beginning.

ALAN SILVA: It goes back to 1952. I come from Bermuda and came to the United States around 1945. I was living in Harlem at the time and got involved in music and playing piano when I was quite young. I was involved with the music that was happening in Harlem at the time, church music and jazz music. I studied with Donald Byrd on trumpet when I was younger. He was a great mentor in developing my talent. At the same time, I had three different types of professions. I was a jeweler. Then I decided that I liked to play music and I liked to paint. Those three things were a big part of my life. Around 1962, I decided to begin formally studying and that I wanted to become an artist. I thought Afro-American music, jazz music at that time was the way I needed to go. What was important was improvisation and that pushed me to develop music from this point of view. Music education was something I pursued, but improvisation was not something that was necessarily taught with music education. I was a big jazz collector of records and those records were important for the way you could study and listen to them. What impressed me about improvisation was this constant evolution that was taking place in front of me. I figured out that improvisation was the way I needed to go, as opposed to reading somebody else's score.

FJ: Enthusiasts of your work are familiar with your faculties as an improviser and painter, but jeweler?

ALAN SILVA: (Laughing) The jewelry thing evolved, primarily, as a secondary profession. I went to a designer school, to which I could create my own jewelry. Then I worked at a very top level shop in New York City doing diamonds and platinum and stuff like that. It was a highly paid job. If I would have pursued that career, I probably would have come out a little better than I have at the present moment.

FJ: Diamonds are the largest corporate (De Beers) fraud in history, right?

ALAN SILVA: (Laughing)

FJ: You are not the first improviser to enjoy painting. Miles Davis painted as do Peter Brötzmann and Bill Dixon.

ALAN SILVA: What is interesting about painting and playing music with other people is that playing music with other people, especially improvisation was a social phenomenon. Four or five guys are playing together to create the music. Painting is a lonelier operation in the sense that you could do it anywhere. I like design and I like structures and I see that in music. I was just working on one of my boxes right now, finishing up an order. For years, I was trying to capture live music on paint. Abstract expressionism, Jackson Pollock, I thought they captured the improvisation process.

FJ: The order you were referring to is the Treasure Box (HR57), original paintings and music from The Celestrial Communication Orchestra. Distributed in the States by Eremite Records, the Treasure Box, from personal experience, is not the easiest thing to come by.

ALAN SILVA: I'm sorry you haven't gotten one yet. You will. You will. We had a backorder situation. I created the Treasure Box a year ago, getting it designed. The Box is in parts and I assemble it myself. It was my design and I put it together.

FJ: The Treasure Box is a work of art. Bill Dixon combined art with music and more recently, Peter Brötzmann, but nothing this extensive.

ALAN SILVA: Bill and I go all the way back to the Sixties and me and Bill are primarily artists. We thought the music needed to be on record and the record to be an art object. We said this music could be like painting and we kind of gravitated toward this kind of concept. The packaging had to be unique. The first time I noticed that was when he produced a session for Savoy (Bill Dixon's 7-Tette), but he did it with a very beautiful photograph with him and Archie Shepp. Now that is the way a record should look. I moved into that direction in the Sixties when I worked with Bernard Stollman and his record label (ESP) with just photographs. Photographs were a big element in the developing of this packaging. I just kept this concept going that I needed to produce my own music and I needed to have my own packaging and seeing it as an art form.

FJ: The Treasure Box is limited. How limited?

ALAN SILVA: We have a number of 224. I plan to keep it alive as people's demands are. We have a total of 385 that we're numbering. Since I own the design itself, I will continue to make the Treasure Box as long as there is a demand for them. From my point of view, especially because the Treasure Box is part of a four album set of Celestrial Communication Orchestra. Me and Eremite have a contract together. He has 800 sets. People might say that it is a little expensive for everybody.

FJ: It lists for how much because I have seen it for as much as $300.00?

ALAN SILVA: No. Crazy. It sells on the internet for $120.00. That is really ridiculous. I will tell you, Fred, I began working on this project two years ago and I had planned on just doing CD-Rs for anybody who wanted to hear this great concert of mine. If it wasn't for the internet, which I believe very strongly in as a means for selling records and making my kind of music available to a wider audience. When we launched this project a year ago, the cost of the CDs and the cost of the art, because we didn't want to lose the integrity of the art. It is expensive, but you have two original paintings here and the artist did it himself. There are great photographs and we spent money on two beautiful brochures. If you think it is of value at $120.00, where would it be ten years from now? It will be more. I look at it as an investment. I was on Ebay last night and Frank Wright's record that he made with A.R. Penck, the vinyl is going for $55.00.

FJ: Your first session as a leader was for the ESP label.

ALAN SILVA: Bernard was one of the first guys to say that you can play what you want. He didn't say Albert Ayler couldn't play or I don't like the tunes you're playing. This guy was brilliant enough to let Albert play what he wanted to play. He created a record that everyone in the industry thought was crazy. I worked in the industry and I worked in record shops. People would ask, "Who is this? This is weird music." At that time, it was a real different kind of music. He said to go into the studio and record what you want to record. In 1960, to sell Sun Ra in the United States was not making anyone rich.

FJ: Four decades later, this generation is hip to the music.

ALAN SILVA: Exactly.

FJ: You worked with Ayler, featured on the In Greenwich Village sessions. Ayler's significance is consistently slighted.

ALAN SILVA: The problem with the older critics and this dimension of the Sixties and what is considered jazz and what is considered improvisation, I didn't like critics attacking musicians because we couldn't play what they asked us to play. They wanted us to sound like Charlie Parker. Why would I want to sound like Charlie Parker? Charlie Parker didn't sound like me. The issue for me has always been the voice of these musicians. You have to establish a voice, a timbre, a concept. Albert came along with a concept on how to play his music. That was the major problem for those critics. If you heard Charlie Parker in 1939, you might have thought he was crazy. I heard Cecil Taylor when I was fifteen years old and I thought he was quite advanced. There is always a conflict, but Cecil Taylor went to a conservatory, so he must know something about music. So the whole thing of judging a musician based on some kind of credential that he is carrying is absolutely ridiculous. If you think Cecil Taylor can't play, why the fuck did he pay for a music education? I buy these records. When a critic takes a position like that, I wonder, what kind of controls are you looking for? We live in a democracy and this music reflects that freedom of expression. Then what is wrong with Albert Ayler?

FJ: Like many ex-patriots, you moved to Paris and remained. Why?

ALAN SILVA: I had come here very early. I came to Europe in '65 with Cecil Taylor. We came to Paris and I was playing in this great radio station and I had never played in a great radio station in the United States. I just felt that professionally speaking, these guys were saying that Cecil Taylor was important. I was young at the time and I guess that had an impression on me. I just think there is a more diverse culture here. It wasn't going to happen for me in the United States, so I decided to stay in Paris for the opportunities. It wasn't an ex-patriot decision. I was an American. It was just a window of opportunity and I took it. I developed on the European scene. The things I have done in Europe, I might not have done in the States. Governmental subsidies were invested in jazz. I worked with Cecil Taylor and I worked with Sun Ra and the opportunities that they had over here were much more broader than they had in the States.

FJ: And the future?

ALAN SILVA: Those four are what's going on. There is All-Star Game with me, William (Parker), Hamid (Drake).

FJ: Marshall Allen and Kidd Jordan.

ALAN SILVA: Yes, and then we have a beautiful record out with me, William, Daniel Carter, and Roy Campbell on FMP (Fractured Dimensions). I think this is really great. We did this about three years ago at a festival in Berlin. I think this is really a great piece of music.

Fred Jung is the Editor-In-Chief and is Wang Chunging tonight. Comments? Email Him