Courtesy of Alan Silva
CHAT WITH 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.
of your work are familiar with your faculties as an improviser and painter,
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
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?