Antoine Silverman


"The violin is such an unusual instrument for jazz that it almost inherently lends itself to new approaches and ideas in whatever I play. At the same time, because of the prominence it's always had in country and bluegrass music, it's an instrument and sound that is very familiar and recognizable to most people."
It's hard to find the perfect metaphor for the music of jazz violinist Antoine Silverman. He is a definitive new voice in the world of contemporary jazz, but that doesn't begin to convey the power, or the subtlety, of the man and his music. You could call it a burst of light in a gradually graying sky, or perhaps the sudden eruption of white water around the bend in a gently flowing river.

Then again, one need only check out Blue Moods, Antoine's stunning debut on Nashville-based Hillsboro Jazz, and let the music itself create its own metaphors and magic. Whatever the imagery, Antoine and his four-piece band offer a perfect, engrossing and irresistibly entertaining mix of three Silverman originals, leavened with a seamless serenade of shimmering reinterpretations of both jazz standards and instrumental takes on some of popular music's most enduring standards.

A few particular stand-outs on an album filled with stellar work are Harold Arlen & Johnny Mercer's evergreen, Come Rain Or Come Shine, which gets a sweet and slightly sassy treatment. Duke Ellington's In A Sentimental Mood makes a graceful bow to the grand master before taking flight in the inimitable hands of Antoine, ably supported by bassist Roger Spencer, drummer Chris Brown, guitarist Pat Bergeson and pianist Stefan Karlson. Antoine's own Bee's Bounce takes flight with a brief-but-bedazzling burst of solo violin with the ensemble cast providing cool, yet swinging bee-bop dynamic interplay.

Antoine's singular gifts as a musician, as well as his choice of the violin as his musical voice, lend his work both a freshness and a familiarity that reaches well beyond a traditional jazz audience.

"The violin is such an unusual instrument for jazz that it almost inherently lends itself to new approaches and ideas in whatever I play," Antoine explains. "At the same time, because of the prominence it's always had in country and bluegrass music, it's an instrument and sound that is very familiar and recognizable to most people."

Through the musical tastes of his mother, a native of France, and even more so of his father, the well-known musicologist and author, Jerry Silverman, an aficionado of American folk and blues music, Antoine grew up in his New York City family home hearing and absorbing a rich, diverse mix of indigenous American music and many world sounds as well.

"Jazz was just one part of many in my musical upbringing," Antoine recalls. "I can't say I was a jazz kid, per se, listening to Miles Davis in the crib. I did, however, have an early love for the violin, and began classical lessons when I was only three. I was hearing and acquiring so many kinds of music constantly, hearing and watching my father playing guitar, mandolin and banjo. He would teach me the melody lines to old fiddle tunes sometimes, and we'd play together. And the folk/blues tradition that he loved so much really stuck with me. Jazz is such a broad and all-encompassing genre, and it shares a fair bit of common ground with the blues. Blue Moods is very much a bluesy approach to jazz."

Antoine's academic education throughout his youth and high school years was supplemented strongly with private violin lessons, as well as ongoing, weekend musical classes and instruction for gifted children at the Manhattan School of Music. Antoine's love for both jazz and hard rock (he laughingly admits to this day a teenagers' undying affection for genre superstars AC/DC to Led Zeppelin), and his dazzling improvisational gifts, were in full force by the time he graduated New York's Columbia University. Though majoring in history, he also carried a large course load of music classes as well at the world-renowned Julliard School of Music, through a unique program that allowed the Columbia students with strong musical credentials to divide their academic and music courses between two institutions.

But even as a highly trained and skilled classical violinist, he found his own tastes and instincts leading him further afield. With a nearly equal proficiency in, and love for, classical, jazz, blues, rock and bluegrass music, Antoine spent several years after college as something of a fiddler for all occasions and tastes, before feeling all the while a tug to Nashville and an excursion into bluegrass. Though his eclectic tastes have never waned, he did indeed establish a very respected place for himself in the Nashville country/bluegrass scene. His singular way with jazz --particularly the highly melodic school forged by such giants as Stan Getz, Chet Baker, Johnny Hodges, among many-- remained strong, leading into circles that included most of Music City's top jazz players.

It would be hard-pressed for any player or violin enthusiast to not have been touched by Stephane Grappelli, easily the preeminent jazz violinist of the 20th century. His deft mixture of instrumental virtuosity and ready accessibility brought a widespread popular appeal that often eluded even some of jazz's greatest talents. Antoine was no exception, as he recalls the late maestro, "Grapelli was a tremendous influence on me," says Antoine. "His sense of timing, phrasing and flair...and just the notes he chose to play were striking. I saw him perform in Paris and it was like a veil was lifted as I understood the violin in ways I never had before. You could call it a life-changing moment. I sent him some early demo tapes of mine, and he actually replied, complimenting me and encouraging me to keep going. I have always listened to so many great musicians in so many styles, and such an array of instruments. But when it came to jazz violin, there's no question that he was the king."

Since relocating to New York in 1999, in addition to the completion of Blue Moods and club dates in and around New York, Antoine has found himself a sought-after session player, landing big name gigs - in typically diverse fashion - everywhere from Broadway shows to the Sesame Street Band, to tours playing with DJ/Dance sensation Moby, and multi-platinum modern rockers, Sinead O'Connor and Sixpence None The Richer.

While some artists themselves struggle for words to describe their music, Antoine expresses a very strong sense of self-awareness in what he does, with a very concise yet broad description that could also read quite accurately as a statement of purpose for his label, the new, Nashville-based Hillsboro Jazz.

"My goal as an artist is to have and continue to develop a strong voice of my own," he says, "and to express that in musical settings and contexts that, without modifying or compromising my artistry, my style, my music that people enjoy listening to. I've never been one to over-intellectualize music. I know what I like, and I play it from my heart."

From the opening bars of Blue Moods to the fading of the final note, it's safe to say Antoine Silverman has accomplished his goal splendidly. And just as anyone who hears him would agree, is clearly having a rollicking good time every step, and every note, of the way.