Cal State East Bay graduate student Mario Silva is like most musicians. He says he doesn’t play to get paid or “make it big” or win awards. He plays for the love of music.
But when the Grammys aired on Feb. 15, he won some major bragging rights to go along with that love. That’s because you can hear Silva’s trumpet on several of the tracks off Morgan Heritage’s “Strictly Roots,” which took home the award for Best Reggae Album of the year.
"I am so glad for the opportunity to make music and also to hear the excitement from friends and teachers," said Silva, who is earning his master's degree in jazz performance. "So many people from Cal State East Bay called and texted to say, 'Congratulations.' I am glad this is shining a spotlight on the music program there."
Silva said he got involved with the album through his connections. “I got a call, randomly,” he said, describing how the horns were laid down in a small, San Francisco studio. “We did it by ear. The singer sang us the line he wanted and we interpreted it and came up with the harmonies on the spot.”
It’s the kind of gig 36-year-old Silva has earned through a lot of work. He picked up trumpet at 16 and was playing professionally by 19. “I started getting calls, because I could sight read really well, to play in a lot of salsa bands,” Silva said. “Back in the early 2000s, late 90s, the Bay Area salsa scene was even bigger than it is now. I was also playing a lot of jazz and R&B and funk and soul.” Then, at 23, he was asked to tour internationally with a Sacramento group. From there, he earned a degree in jazz performance from San Francisco State University, started teaching private trumpet, clarinet and piano lessons through his website, and continued to play professionally with several Bay Area bands. Last year, he decided to build on what he’d learned as an undergraduate student and pursue his master’s degree at CSUEB.
“The director of jazz studies is an amazing musician and amazing teacher,” said Silva. “I thought I would take advantage of the time Dr. Mitch Butler was there. And I love that Cal State East Bay is the most diverse campus in the United States.”
Silva went on to explain that the school holds extra appeal to him because of how seriously he takes his studies. “It’s not like there’s frat kids everywhere and people walking around in their pajamas. You go, you study, and you get to work.”
It’s an ethic he thinks every music student with aspirations of playing professionally should adopt. “When you are getting a music degree, it’s important to really set aside time to focus on it,” Silva said. “Life gets really distracting with having to pay bills, especially living here in the Bay Area. Never balk at doing the amount of work that it takes to learn something. If you want to do it, you need to make time. Once you do it, it pays off in dividends.”
Silva recently co-produced the album “Borderless” by La Gente, an international recording group based in San Francisco. He currently plays with multi Grammy-nominated Chuchito Valdes, a Cuban-Latin jazz pianist, and traditional Cuban band Pellejo Seco. But his next big recording project will likely be his own. The musician is starting to write his own material, with the goal of laying down the tracks himself.
“The initial recordings I want to do will be a little more instrumental, more ambient,” Silva said. “Then I want to move on to writing more Latin jazz and straight jazz and also a mix of danceable, salsa jazz. I might even try singing. I sing a lot of background right now, but I would eventually love to sing lead.”
When you listen to “Strictly Roots,” Silva recommends three songs in particular: “The opening track sounds straight fire to me. ‘Light It Up,’ is cool because I like how they incorporated elements of dubstep. And I like ‘Wanna Be Loved’ because it’s just really funky.”
You can catch Silva performing locally with Rupa and the April Fishes, Pellejo Seco, and The Lucky Devils.