The Dead Set, Jim Hoke, Christy Rose and Fats Kaplan, Jason White, Byron House, The Jack Silverman Ordeal. These are some of the bands and musicians that Jack Silverman has played his jazz/rock blend of guitar with around town since moving to Nashville 15 years ago.
I’ve had the pleasure of playing bass with Jack and drummer Adam Abrashoff for the past few months at The Ordeal’s Monday night Family Wash residency. The sets feature Jack’s instrumental compositions, a whole lot of improvisation, and a bit of Monk and The Dead thrown in for flavor. Really what I’ve been doing is trying to keep up with Jack’s free-flowing, never-ending wellspring of creative, improvised ideas.
We recently sat down pre-gig over a plate of gorgonzola potato chips to have a chat about Jack’s love of music and of course, the guitar.
I wondered how he found the guitar or how the guitar found him.
The moment came over the sound of beer-soaked quarters bouncing into glass. Nineteen-year-old Brown University sophomore Silverman heard someone wailing along to a Santana record at a party.
“I just remember hearing that and knowing right away, I want to do that.”
A 1979 Fender Stratocaster and a lot of dorm room jamming followed. “I was too loud and not very good,” he says. “I wore out the needle on my turntable learning Duane Allman’s solo on ‘Hotlanta.’ At one point one of my neighbors asked, ‘Is he killing a cat in there?’”
By the time he finished college, Jack could play along with the solos of his heroes: Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, and Jerry Garcia. Solos. But what about chords?! Where’s all that jazz coming from?
“I figured I better start learning some of this chord stuff or I’d never get a gig,” he laughs.
Sticking around Providence for a few years after graduation, he did just that. Touring and gigging in town with a blues rock outfit called The Magneetos, he found the right teacher in Paul Murphy: a true rhythm guitar player who filled in occasionally in Albert King’s band and as full-time rhythm guitarist in Duke Robillard’s band for many years.
“He told me the most important thing musically that I’ve ever heard and I still think about it and go back to it. He said, ‘There are two components to playing any note: the rhythm and melody. The rhythm is more important than the melody.’ He told me, ‘You can play the right note in the wrong time and it will never sound good and you could play a wrong note in the right time and it will sound much better.’ That got me thinking about what my right hand was doing and not just my left,” Silverman says.
Moving to New York City and living in the Village on St. Marks Place, Jack started listening to more jazz. Stuff like Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew. He would go see Mike Stern at the 55 bar. And began studying jazz guitar in the late ’80s with Stern’s wife, Leni, and later with Emily Remler.
“Emily Remler was one of the greatest jazz guitar players that ever lived, and she taught me so many technical things about jazz and its chord structures — how to really play over those changes. That really stretched my mind but, to put it simply, she was all about the passion — she lived for the guitar,” Silverman remembers.
“Leni Stern taught me to think of the neck horizontally and not vertically. To be able to play the whole scale on one string, to be fluid and not locked in to any one position.”
Practicing four hours a day and working in restaurants, living the downtown life in the village, Jack’s playing was developing. The effortless improviser that I know was taking shape in the belly of the Big Apple, in dive bars and Alphabet City flotsam. He worked as a waiter by day and played late-night gigs for little money in bands with names like Lord Demos And The Gangster Rock Nation. “Bohemians, NYU students, drug dealers, hookers — all in an after-hours bar called Billy’s 746 club grooving to The Gangsters. The best-worst gig I ever had,” he says.
In 2014 Jack Silverman is a seasoned Nashville veteran and an endless experimenter whose playing blends jazz and rock into an amalgam of both. He will kick on an overdrive pedal and rip a solo on a Les Paul or play a country waltz on a hollow body. Adam and I will be holding down a groove and Jack will be playing in a mode I’ve never heard, improvising freely, using his pedal board as an instrument, and looping guitars in harmony with the band.
“I love to improvise, that’s what got me into playing to begin with, the excitement and the magic and the telepathy that goes on when you’re playing with other people. You’re on the tightrope, in the moment. I’m more about an inspired moment than perfection.
“I have a weakness for certain old guitars. You pick them up and they have a vibe. You wonder about the people who have played them and where they are now. You can almost feel the history in them. I love the way the strings resonate when you hit them. I love everything about the guitar,” he says.
I asked him why the he and the guitar have stayed together all these years.
“Nothing makes me as happy, the world feels right when I’m playing guitar. I do it because I have to.”
I can dig it, Jack.