I remember the first time and the last time I saw Ira. The first time was in 1986. I was a college kid fresh back from studying in Israel, trying to establish myself in the business with a borrowed keyboard & amp. I was picking up my kid sister from Shulamit Yeshiva, and I had an hour to kill. I looked up, and there was the sign for Ruach Orchestra. A smaller sign on the door said "Come on up & say Hi." So I did.
I had always been intimidated about trying out for the bands, but the sign looked so friendly that I walked right in. And sitting in the office were two of my childhood idols - Ira Silber and Shmoo Klaver. (Shmoo, if you're reading this - sorry.) I still remember how kind they were to me. Instead of treating me like a dumb starstruck kid coming to waste their time (which I was), they were very friendly and treated me seriously. Ira took out an old keyboard & had me sight-read something, and I sang for them. Eventually, they had me sit in on a few gigs, and, relatively quickly, I was doing gigs with them.
Ira was the first guy in the business to give me leads. When I made the inevitable rookie mistakes (once I gave the guys a 10-minute break on a smorg - THE CUSTOMER WAS FURIOUS!), Ira would call me up, and gently discuss my transgressions. I never felt that he was scolding me - it was more of a clarification of events, with Ira totally on my side. In this way, I learned the business of club-dating in a non-pressure-cooker situation.
In later years, I didn't see Ira so frequently - as Shimmy & Lenny pointed out, keyboard guys don't see each other that often. I did work with him occasionally when he drummed for the Homowack lounge band. I remember his warm smile and gentle presence. At the time, the Homowack show band featured a real firecracker of an Israeli pianist. I remember Ira turning to me and saying, "I would give anything to be able to play like that guy." In fact, Ira was no slouch on the keyboards himself, but it was refreshing to see his combination of humility and appreciation for those who had reached the next level.
The last time I saw Ira was a few weeks ago, in the Neginah office. I was there on some business, and Ira was there in his corner office. I asked him how he was doing, and he said, "Not so well." I knew that to be a fact, as I had recently subbed for him during one of his hospital stays. He had been in poor health for years, yet he still had that gentle smile on his face. We talked about this and that for a few minutes, and we said goodbye. I never dreamed it would be for the last time.
Ira was one of the true gentlemen of the business. With him, it was never about ego, or attitude, or any of the silliness that often pervades the JM scene. He preferred to be behind the scenes - arranging the lead sheets, backboning the band on keys, and leaving the limelight to others. He will be greatly missed, and never forgotten.