As most of our devoted followers know, we recently made a trip out to Los Angeles to film interviews for the upcoming Roy Ayers documentary. One person that we interviewed was renowned bassist, John B. Williams, aka John B. Out of the hundreds of personalities I’ve had the pleasure of interviewing, John B. was surely one of the most memorable. He had played Bass with Roy Ayers on the “He’s Coming…” album, and the “Mystic Voyage” album. Surprisingly, these were just blips in the illustrious career of John B. He has most notably played with Nancy Wilson for the last 25 years, and was also the bassist for the Johnny Carson Show as well as the Arsenio Hall Show. This doesn’t include the countless number of Jazz legends that he has gigged with, but one of which that struck a tremendous personal interest with me was Horace Silver, who John B. played with in his earlier days. John B. dropped his name during the interview, and I didn’t want to disrupt the flow, so off camera, I asked John B. what type of person Horace was.
“He was a teacher”, was the first thing he said about Horace Silver, and followed by “He taught me so many things about playing the Bass.” The way John B put it, Horace Silver was similar to many musical greats in the way he demanded nothing less than perfection from his band members. John B went on to say that most of Silver’s compositions are relatively simple for a bassist, sometimes even consisting the same notes in repetition throughout the song. As a side note, this is the plight of every bassist. They never get the shine, or fame, or anything that comes along with being a big star, yet they play such an important role to any part of Jazz, or modern music for that matter. Anyway, John B. referenced one song in particular, which was Horace Silver’s “Que Pasa”. As John B. described this song, he said, “It’s the same melody for the entire song. Boum….Bom, Bom, Boum…Bom Bom..” and Horace Silver expected those notes to be played just like that. No frills, no variation, no solo, just play those notes.
So one time during a break after playing that song at a gig, John B. was upset at the fact that he’s stuck playing these simplistic notes, and getting minimal accolades, while everyone else gets to solo, and get the applause, and fanfare. So what John B did was say to himself, “I’m going to play those notes that Horace asks of me, but I’m going to add my own style.” He sang out his examples. “During the solos I would switch it to ‘WHOMP…bing, bing, WHOMP…bing, bing,’ then during the main melody I would play ‘bing…bahh, bahh, bing…bahh, bahh.. I would play it different for every section, and that helped me elevate my bass playing to new levels.” He then ended the story with the moral, which he would adopt as his motto, “It ain’t what you play, it’s how you play it!”
Although Horace Silver is still alive today, John B. Williams said that he hasn’t spoke to him in years. In fact, not too many people have. He went on to say that his family has protective custody over him, and for whatever reason, has kept him from the public eye. John B. and some of his early band mates that played with Horace planned to do a tribute of sorts involving Mr. Silver, but they could not get permission from him or his camp, so they felt that if he wasn’t involved, that it wouldn’t be the same. So the project was scrapped.
In closing, it is unfortunate that Horace Silver cannot be acknowledged for his contributions and greatness while he is still alive, I am extremely thankful for hearing testimony from someone who has had first hand experience with Mr. Silver, and the experience of interviewing a legend in his own right, Mr. John B. Williams.
Check out John B.’s personal site, johnbwilliams.com
(Written by Haylow)