(born September 2
), born Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva
in Norwalk, Connecticut
, is an American jazz pianist
and composer. His father, who was known as John Tavares Silver, was from the island of Maio
in Cape Verde
. His mother was born in New Canaan, Connecticut and was of Irish-African descent. Silver is known for his distinctive humorous and funky playing style and for his pioneering contributions to hard bop
. Silver was influenced by a wide range of musical styles, notably gospel music, African music, and Latin American music and sometimes ventured into the soul jazz genre.
Early life and career
Silver began his career as a tenor saxophonist but later switched to piano
. His tenor saxophone
playing was highly influenced by Lester Young
, and his piano style by Bud Powell
. Silver was discovered in the Sundown Club in Hartford, Connecticut in 1950 by saxophonist Stan Getz
. Getz was playing at the club with Silver’s trio backing him up. Getz liked Silver’s band and brought them on the road, eventually recording three of Silver’s compositions. It was Getz with whom Silver made his recording debut.
He moved to New York City in 1951, where he worked at the jazz club Birdland on Monday nights, when different musicians would come together and informally jam. During that year he met the executives of the label Blue Note while working as a sideman. He eventually signed with them where he remained until 1980. It was in New York that he formed The Jazz Messengers, a co-operatively run group with Art Blakey.
In 1952 and 1953 he recorded three sessions with his own trio, featuring Blakey on drums and Gene Ramey, Curly Russell and Percy Heath on bass. The drummer-pianist team lasted for four years; during this time, Silver and Blakey recorded at Birdland (A Night at Birdland Vol. 1) with Russell, Clifford Brown and Lou Donaldson, at the Bohemia with Kenny Dorham and Hank Mobley, and also in the studios. He was also a member of the Miles Davis All Stars, recording the notable Walkin' in 1954.
Blue Note years
From 1956 onwards, Silver recorded exclusively for the Blue Note
label, eventually becoming close to label boss Alfred Lion
who allowed him greater input on aspects of album production than was usual at the time. During his years with Blue Note, Silver helped to create the rhythmically forceful branch of jazz known as "hard bop", which combined elements of rhythm-and-blues and gospel music with jazz. Gospel elements are particularly prominent on one of his biggest hits, "The Preacher", which Silver had thought corny, but Lion had persuaded him to record.
While Silver's compositions at this time featured surprising tempo shifts and a range of melodic ideas, they caught the attention of a wide audience. Silver's own piano playing easily shifted from aggressively percussive to lushly romantic within just a few bars. At the same time, his sharp use of repetition was funky even before that word could be used in polite company. Along with Silver's own work, his bands often featured such rising jazz stars as saxophonists Junior Cook and Hank Mobley, trumpeter Blue Mitchell, and drummer Louis Hayes. Some of his key albums from this period included Horace Silver Trio (1953), Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (1955), Six Pieces of Silver (1956) and Blowin' the Blues Away (1959), which includes his famous, "Sister Sadie." He also combined jazz with a sassy take on pop through the 1961 hit, "Filthy McNasty".
Silver tended not to play up that he was proficient in Portuguese, nor draw directly on his rich Lusophone musical upbringing. His 1965 hit, "Cape Verdean Blues," is the only clear rhythmic reference to his childhood home where his father and friends jammed, with traditional Capeverdean morna
as the main fare. In the interview for the liner notes to 1964's Song for My Father (
Cantiga Para Meu Pai)
, however, Silver remarked of the title track, "This tune is an original of mine, but it has a flavor of it that makes me think of my childhood days. Some of the family, including my father and my uncle, used to have musical parties with three or four stringed instruments; my father played violin and guitar. Those were happy, informal sessions." Silver melded additional Lusophone influences into his music directly after his February 1964 tour of Brazil. Referring to "Song for My Father," Silver said, "I was very much impressed by the authentic bossa nova
beat. Not just the monotonous tick-tick-tick, tick-tick
, the way it's usually done, but the real bossa nova
feeling, which I've tried to incorporate into this number."
His early influences included the styles of boogie-woogie and the blues. It includes but is not limited to Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Nat “King” Cole, and Thelonious Monk. He liked to quote other musicians within his own work and would often recreate famous solos in his original pieces as something of a tribute to the greats who influenced him.
During Silver's time with Blakey he rarely recorded as a leader, but after splitting with him in 1956, formed his own hard bop quintet at first featuring the same line-up as Blakey's Jazz Messengers with 18-year-old Louis Hayes substituting for Blakey. The quintet's more enduring line-up featured Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook.
In 1963 Silver created a new group featuring Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Carmell Jones on trumpet; this quintet recorded most of Silver's best-known album Song for My Father. When Jones left to settle in Europe, the trumpet chair was filled by a young Woody Shaw and Tyrone Washington replaced Henderson.
Silver's compositions, catchy and very strong harmonically, gained popularity while his band gradually switched to funk and soul. This change of style was not readily accepted by many long-time fans. The quality of several albums of this era, such as The United States of Mind (on which Silver himself provided vocals on several tracks), is to this day contested by fans of the genre. Silver's spirituality displayed on these albums also has a mixed reputation. However, many of these later albums featured many interesting musicians (such as Randy Brecker). Silver was the last musician to be signed to Blue Note in the 1970s before it went into temporary abeyance. In 1981 he formed his own short-lived label, Silveto.
After Silver's long tenure with Blue Note ended, he continued to create vital music. The 1985 album, Continuity of Spirit
(Silveto), features his unique orchestral collaborations. In the 1990s, Silver directly answered the urban popular music that had been largely built from his influence on It's Got To Be Funky
(Columbia, 1993). Now living surrounded by a devoted family in California, Silver has received much of the recognition due a venerable jazz icon. In 2005, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) gave him its President's Merit Award.
In early 2008, it was reported by bassist Christian McBride that Silver is suffering from Alzheimer's disease.
Silver's music was a major force in modern jazz on at least four counts. He was one of the first pioneers of the style known as Hard Bop
, influencing such pianists as Bobby Timmons, Les McCann, and Ramsey Lewis
. Second, the instrumentation of his quintet (trumpet, tenor sax, piano, double bass, and drums) served as a model for small jazz groups from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s. Further, Silver's ensembles provided an important training ground for young players, many of whom (such as Donald Byrd, Art Farmer, Blue Mitchell, Woody Shaw
, Junior Cook, and Joe Henderson
) later led similar groups of their own. Finally, Silver refined the art of composing and arranging for his chosen instrumentation to a level of craftsmanship as yet unsurpassed in jazz.
Silver's talent didn't go unnoticed among rock musicians who bore jazz influences, either; Steely Dan sent Silver into the Top 40 in the early 1970s when they crafted one of their biggest hit singles, "Rikki, Don't Lose That Number," off the bass riff that opens "Song for My Father."
As social and cultural upheavals shook the nation during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Silver responded to these changes through music. He commented directly on the new scene through a trio of records called United States of Mind (1970-1972) that featured the spirited vocals of Andy Bey. The composer got deeper into cosmic philosophy as his group, Silver 'N Strings, recorded Silver 'N Strings Play The Music of the Spheres (1979).
(* As Co-Leader with Blakey)
- Horace Silver Trio (Blue Note, 1952/1953)
- Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (Blue Note, 1955)
- The Jazz Messengers at the Cafe Bohemia, Volumes 1 and 2 (Blue Note, 1955)*
- The Jazz Messengers (Columbia, 1956)*
- Silver's Blue (Columbia, 1956)
- Six Pieces of Silver (Blue Note, 1956)
- The Stylings of Silver (Blue Note, 1957)
- Further Explorations by The Horace Silver Quintet (Blue Note, 1958)
- Finger Poppin' with The Horace Silver Quintet (Blue Note, 1959)
- Blowin' the Blues Away (Blue Note, 1959)
- Horace-Scope (Blue Note, 1960)
- Doin' the Thing, The Horace Silver Quintet at The Village Gate (Blue Note, 1961)
- The Tokyo Blues (Blue Note, 1962)
- Silver's Serenade (Blue Note, 1963)
- Song for My Father (Blue Note, 1964)
- The Cape Verdean Blues (Blue Note, 1965)
- The Jody Grind (Blue Note, 1966)
- Serenade to a Soul Sister (Blue Note, 1968)
- You Gotta Take A Little Love (Blue Note, 1969)
- The United States of Mind Phase I : That Healin' Feelin' (Blue Note, 1970)
- The United States of Mind Phase II : Total Response (Blue Note, 1971)
- The United States of Mind Phase III : All (Blue Note, 1972)
- In Pursuit of the 27th Man (Blue Note, 1972)
- Silver 'N Brass (Blue Note, 1975)
- Silver 'N Wood (Blue Note, 1976)
- Silver 'N Voices (Blue Note, 1977)
- Silver 'N Percussion (Blue Note, 1978)
- Silver 'N Strings Play The Music Of The Spheres (Blue Note, 1979)
- Guides To Growing Up (Silveto, 1981)
- Spiritualizing The Senses (Silveto, 1983)
- There's No Need To Struggle (Silveto, 1984)
- Continuity Of Spirit (Silveto, 1985)
- Music To Ease Your Disease (Silveto, 1988)
- Rockin' With Rachmaninoff (Bop City, 1991)
- It's Gotta Be Funky (Columbia, 1993)
- Pencil Packin' Papa (Columbia, 1994)
- The Hardbop Grandpop (Impulse!, 1996)
- A Prescription for the Blues (Impulse!, 1997)
- Jazz Has a Sense of Humor (Verve, 1999)
with Stan Getz :
with Lou Donaldson :
with Terry Gibbs :
with Coleman Hawkins :
with Lester Young :
with Sonny Stitt :
with Howard McGhee :
with Al Cohn :
with Kenny Dorham, Lou Donaldson, Gene Ramey, Art Blakey :
with Art Farmer :
with Art Blakey :
with Miles Davis :
with Phil Urso :
with Art Farmer and Gigi Gryce :
with Various :
with Clark Terry :
with Kenny Dorham :
with Milt Jackson :
with Hank Mobley :
with J. J. Johnson :
with Kenny Clarke :
with Nat Adderley :
with Gigi Gryce :
with Donald Byrd :
with Rita Reys :
with Paul Chambers :
with J. R. Monterose :
with Lee Morgan :
with Kenny Burrell :
with Clifford Jordan and John Gilmore :
with Sonny Rollins :
with Dee Dee Bridgewater :