Pianist Horace Silver, one of hard bop’s leading proponents that shifted an importance to blues and funk in the mid-1950s, died of natural causes on Wednesday morning at his home in New Rochelle, NY. Silver was 85 and his death was confirmed by his son, Gregory Silver.

Horace Silver

Silver got his first big break backing Stan Getz in 1950 during a club date in Hartford, Connecticut. The pianist would eventually move to New York and would later make his recording debut for Blue Note in 1952 with the release of the eponymous Horace Silver Trio featuring Curley Russell (bass) and Jazz Messenger co-founder Art Blakey (drums).

Art Blakey and Silver would hook up again on different occasions including the sessions for Lou Donaldson’s Quartet/Quintet/Sextet LP. Perhaps the most famous meeting between Silver and Blakey in those early days was their February 21, 1954 performance at New York’s Birdland, which culminated into the seminal two-volume A Night at Birdland With the Art Blakey Quintet. In his essay “Hard Bop” for Bill Kirchner’s Oxford Companion to Jazz, Gene Seymour would later dub A Night At Birdland as hard bop’s “birth and baptism.”

While we can and should write about the many albums that Horace Silver has played on as a leader and a sideman, and the countless standards that he’s given to this idiom’s canon from “Nica’s Dream” to “Song for My Father,” we won’t belabor points that you, as a music lover, already know and have read here and here. Instead we will focus on the legacy Horace Silver built with hard bop and the sound he created, which David H. Rosenthal would later call as the “new mainstream” in his book Hard Bop: Jazz and Black Music 1955-1965.

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 In an interview with Gene Seymour for Oxford Companion to Jazz, Horace Silver states:

 “I loved bebop for taking jazz further along. But as hip and as great as it was, there was a period of when musicians had kinda… not totally, but somewhat…eliminated the blues, you know? They got so sophisticated that it seemed like they were afraid to play the blues, like it was demeaning to be funky. And I tried to bring that. I didn’t do it consciously at first. But it started to happen.”

Hard bop’s return to funk, blues, and what Silver would call a “meaningful simplicity” in his liner notes for Serenade to a Soul Sister, was the natural answer to bebop’s acrobatic and almost academic nature. While bebop might have added a sense of sophistication during the 1940s through the virtuosity of its practitioners, it also disenfranchised many lay-listeners who did not have the patience to understand its franticness. The music of the mid-1950s, as expressed through the hard bop movement, was the catalyst for returning the focus back to the dance floor. Right in the center of that movement is the late Horace Silver. In an article he wrote for jazz.com, historian, saxophonist, composer, and arranger Bill Kirchner noted that Horace Silver  “…has been hard bop’s Duke Ellington.”

Songs like “Opus De Funk,” “Senor Blues,” “The Preacher,” and “Filthy McNasty” would later come to characterize Silver’s penchant for being funky before it became cool to do so. Perhaps what gave Silver his unique sound was his upbringing in Norwalk, Connecticut.

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Born Horace Ward Silver on September 2, 1928 to John Tavares Silva, an immigrant from Cape Verde who later changed his last name to Silver upon marrying the late pianist’s mother, Gertrude Silver.  John Tavares Silva was a musician who played violin, guitar, and mandolin strictly by ear and had an affinity for the music of his native Cape Verde. The music of Silver’s ancestry and his father would later prove to have a profound impact on the composer’s writing style as can be heard in “Song for My Father,” arguably the composer’s most famous composition.

In his autobiography, Nitty Gritty, Silver recalls:

 “Occasionally, they would give a dance party in our kitchen on a Saturday night. The women fried up some chicken and made potato salad. The men would get whiskey and beer and invite all their friends, Cape Verdean and American blacks, to come and have a good time. They pushed the kitchen table into a corner of the room to make way for dancing, and Dad, Mr. Santos, and Mr. Perry provided the music, playing and singing all the old Cape Verdean songs.

I was a little boy and could not stay up late to witness the festivities. Mom would put me to bed before the party started. I would go to sleep, but eventually the music would wake me up, and I’d get out of bed, wearing my pajamas with the button-down flap in the back, and go downstairs to the party and sit on the steps, looking and listening. Usually, some of the women would see me, come over and embrace me, and bring me food to eat. Then Mom would take me upstairs and put me to bed.”

What makes hard bop and Horace Silver so important today? Well, modern day artists like Madlib and Norah Jones seem to find him important enough to rock his tracks. But perhaps what is more important and what directly applies to the ethos at Revive is the spirit that Horace Silver and the hard bop movement left us with. It is a spirit dedicated to giving audiences a good time by giving them that feel-good music that generates from the musicians on the bandstand and on to the club itself. It’s about a movement back-to-basics during a gilded highbrow age when it’s considered “demeaning to be funky.” Most importantly, it’s about the liner notes in Serenade to a Soul Sister: “Melodic Beauty. Meaningful Simplicity. Harmonic Beauty. Rhythm. Environmental, Heredity, Regional and Spiritual Influence.”

Rest in “Peace” Mr. Horace Silver.


Horace Silver

Photo Credit: Dmitri Savitski



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