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Horace Silver

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Title: Horace Silver  
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Subject: List of jazz contrafacts, Song for My Father, Ebony Woman, The Cape Verdean Blues, The Jody Grind
Collection: 1928 Births, 2014 Deaths, African-American Musicians, American Jazz Bandleaders, American Jazz Composers, American Jazz Pianists, American Musicians of Cape Verdean Descent, American People of Irish Descent, Bebop Pianists, Blue Note Records Artists, Columbia Records Artists, Disease-Related Deaths in New York, Hard Bop Pianists, Jazz Messengers, Mainstream Jazz Pianists, Modal Jazz Pianists, Musicians from New Rochelle, New York, Musicians from New York City, Musicians from Norwalk, Connecticut, People from New Rochelle, New York, Post-Bop Pianists, Soul-Jazz Pianists
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Horace Silver

Horace Silver
Silver by Dmitri Savitski, 1989
Background information
Birth name Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva
Born (1928-09-02)September 2, 1928
Norwalk, Connecticut, U.S.
Died June 18, 2014(2014-06-18) (aged 85)
New Rochelle, New York, U.S.
Genres Jazz, hard bop, modal jazz, mainstream jazz, soul jazz, jazz fusion, post-bop
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Piano
Years active 1950–99
Labels Blue Note, Silveto, Emerald, Columbia, Impulse!, Verve
Associated acts Woody Shaw
Website Official website

Horace Silver (born Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva, September 2, 1928 – June 18, 2014) was an American jazz pianist and composer. He is known for his distinctive playing style and pioneering compositional contributions to hard bop.


  • Early life 1
  • Later life and career 2
    • 1949–55 2.1
    • 1956–80 2.2
    • 1981–2014 2.3
  • Influences 3
  • Playing style 4
  • Legacy 5
  • Discography 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9

Early life

Silver was born on September 2, 1928, in Norwalk, Connecticut.[1] His mother, Gertrude, was from Connecticut; his father, John Tavares Silver, was born on the island of Maio, Cape Verde, and emigrated to the United States as a young man.[2] She was a maid and sang in a church choir;[3] he worked for a tire company.[4] Horace had a much older half-brother, Eugene Fletcher, from his mother's first marriage, and was the third child for his parents, after John, who lived to 6 months, and Maria, who was stillborn.[5] According to Horace's account, his father's surname was originally Silva, but was changed upon marriage to Silver, while his own baptismal name was Horace Ward Silver, which then had his father's middle name added, as well as Martin upon his Catholic confirmation, making him Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silver.[6] Another account is that John was born João Tavares Silva, but changed the spelling of the family name to Silver after Horace's birth.[3][7]

Silver began playing the piano in his childhood and had classical music lessons.[8] His father taught him the folk music of Cape Verde.[9] At the age of 11 Silver became interested in becoming a musician, after hearing the Jimmie Lunceford orchestra.[10] Silver's early piano influences included the styles of boogie-woogie and the blues, the pianists Bud Powell, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Nat "King" Cole, and Thelonious Monk, as well as some jazz horn players.[11] From ninth grade Silver played tenor saxophone in the Norwalk High School band and orchestra, influenced by Lester Young.[12] He played gigs locally on both instruments while still at school.[13] Around 1946 Silver moved to Hartford, Connecticut to take up a regular job as pianist in a nightclub.[14]

Later life and career


Silver's big break came in 1949[15] or 1950, backing saxophonist Stan Getz at a club in Hartford.[3] Getz liked Silver's band[3] and took them on the road.[16] It was with Getz that Silver made his recording debut for the 1950 Stan Getz Quartet album, which featured Getz and Silver with Joe Calloway on bass and Walter Bolden on drums.

After about a year, Silver was replaced as pianist in Getz's band and he moved to New York City,[17] where he worked at the jazz club Birdland on Monday nights, when different musicians met and informally jammed.[18] During that year, he met the executives of Blue Note Records while working as a sideman. He eventually signed with them, remaining there until 1980. In New York, he co-founded the Jazz Messengers, a cooperatively-run group with Art Blakey.

From 1951 to 1954 Silver operated as a freelance in the New York area.[19] In 1952 and 1953, Silver recorded three sessions with his own trio featuring Blakey on drums and Gene Ramey, Curly Russell and Percy Heath on bass. Most of the tracks recorded were Silver compositions.[1] 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 recording studio. Silver was also a member of the Miles Davis All Stars, recording the Walkin' album in 1954.[20]

The album Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers was recorded on November 13, 1954 and issued in 1955. It was regarded as a milestone in the development of hard bop,[21] which combines elements of blues, gospel, and R&B with bebop-based harmony and rhythm.[22] The album contained Silver's first hit, "The Preacher".[21] Longer-playing records allowed the musicians to build solos more than previously.[1] During his time with Blakey, Silver rarely recorded as a leader, but, after splitting with him, he formed his own hard bop quintet, at first, featuring the same line-up as Blakey's Jazz Messengers, with 18-year-old Louis Hayes replacing Blakey on drums. Silver left Blakey, after one and a half years,[22] in part because of the heroin use prevalent in the band.[1]


Silver at Keystone Korner, San Francisco in 1978

From 1956, Silver recorded exclusively for Blue Note, eventually becoming close to label boss Alfred Lion, who allowed him greater input on aspects of album production than was usual at the time. Gospel elements are "particularly prominent on one of his biggest tunes, 'The Preacher'",[23] which Lion thought corny, but which Silver persuaded him to record. Around this time, Silver "composed virtually all the material and won over the crowds through his affable personality and all-action approach. He crouched over the piano as the sweat poured out, with his forelock brushing the keys and his feet pounding."[1]

While Silver's "compositions at this time featured surprising tempo shifts and a range of melodic ideas, they immediately 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 and the Jazz Messengers (1955), 6 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'."[23] A tour of Japan led to the 1962 album The Tokyo Blues.[1]

Silver's quintet (tenor sax, trumpet, piano, bass, drums) became "one of the most popular nightclub and concert attractions in jazz, and an inspiration for countless other bandleaders" by the early 1960s.[3] 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. Song for My Father reached No. 95 on the Billboard 200 in 1965 and a year later The Cape Verdean Blues reached No. 130.[9] Song for My Father was added to the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.[24] When Jones left to settle in Europe, the trumpet chair was filled by a young Woody Shaw, and Tyrone Washington replaced Henderson.

"As social and cultural upheavals shook the nation during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Silver responded to these changes through music."[23] He played electric piano briefly and included lyrics in more of his compositions, although these were sometimes regarded as doggerel or proselytizing.[1][22] That Healin' Feelin', the first of a trio of records later compiled as The United States of Mind, was commercially unsuccessful and Silver had to insist on the support of Blue Note to continue releasing music of the same, new style.[22] Silver became increasingly interested in spiritualism.[1] "The composer got deeper into cosmic philosophy as his group, Silver 'N Strings, recorded Silver 'N Strings Play The Music of the Spheres (1979)."[23] He lived in California from the 1970s.[1]

Between 1952 and 1979,[3] Silver made more than twenty records for Blue Note. Silver's bands often featured Blue Mitchell and Cook. Silver introduced many jazz musicians who went on to become leading figures, including trumpeters Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw and Randy Brecker, saxophonists Joe Henderson, Michael Brecker and Benny Golson.[9] In 1980 he formed Silveto, his own record label, "dedicated to the spiritual, holistic, self-help elements in music", he commented.[22] Its releases were not critical successes.[3] Silver also formed Emerald, a label for straight-ahead jazz, but it was short-lived.[22]


Silver in Berkeley, California, 1983

"The 1985 album Continuity of Spirit (Silveto) features his unique orchestral collaborations."[23] His return in 1993 to major record labels after 13 years[25] also meant a return to mostly instrumental releases.[3] "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)."[23] He received a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award in 1995.[3] His final studio recording was in 1998 – Jazz Has a Sense of Humor, for Verve.[26]

In 2005, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded him its President's Merit Award.[3][24] In July 2007 his autobiography Let's Get to the Nitty Gritty: The Autobiography of Horace Silver was published by University of California Press. Reviewing the book for JazzTimes, Lee Mergner wrote, "[T]his autobiography [...] contains some excellent primary source material on the genesis of modern jazz. [...] During the '50s when bebop and drug abuse went hand in hand, Silver was a veritable paragon of clean living, and that disparity helps to explain his professional disconnect from many of the players of that period." But, Mergner went on: "Silver's account of his life and career post-1970 is less captivating for the average jazz fan, in part because he was less active as a recording artist and also because he is most preoccupied with explaining his unique blend of spirituality and metaphysics".[27]

Silver died of natural causes in New Rochelle, New York on June 18, 2014.[22] He was survived by his son, Gregory,[9] from his marriage to Barbara, which had ended in divorce.[1]


He 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.[28][29]

Silver tended not to play up that he was proficient in Portuguese, or draw directly on his 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 and coladeira as the main fare. In the interview for the liner notes to 1964's Song for My Father, 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." 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."[30]

Playing style

Silver liked to quote other musicians within his work (something he adopted from Tatum)[11] and often recreated famous solos in his original pieces as something of a tribute to the greats who influenced him. Peter Keepnews commented that, "At a time when the refined, quiet and, to some, bloodless style known as cool jazz was all the rage, he was hailed as a leader of the back-to-basics movement that came to be called hard bop. [...] Deftly improvising ingenious figures with his right hand while punching out rumbling bass lines with his left, he managed to evoke boogie-woogie pianists like Meade Lux Lewis and beboppers like Bud Powell simultaneously. Unlike many bebop pianists, however, Mr. Silver emphasized melodic simplicity over harmonic complexity; his improvisations, while sophisticated, were never so intricate as to be inaccessible."[3] Writing for The Huffington Post, Chris Talbot described Silver as "an innately funky player with a keen sense of style", and said "he also incorporated the blues and gospel into his compositions, modernizing jazz at the same time those sounds were transforming other genres like rock 'n' roll and R&B."[31]

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 The United States of Mind sequence (on which Silver himself provided vocals on several tracks), is contested by critics. Silver's spirituality displayed on these albums also has a mixed reputation.

His compositions, many of them jazz standards, continue to be played widely.[3] "Opus De Funk" "is a typical Silver creation: advanced in its harmonic structure and general approach but with a catchy tune and finger-snapping beat."[26]


Silver's music influenced such pianists as Bobby Timmons, Les McCann, and Ramsey Lewis. Cecil Taylor was also influenced by Silver's aggressive approach.[1] Silver's talent did not go unnoticed among rock musicians who bore jazz influences: Steely Dan had a No. 4 hit in 1974 when they crafted "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" off the bass riff that opens "Song for My Father".[9]

In an interview for NPR in 2008, jazz bassist Christian McBride said: "Horace Silver's music has always represented what jazz musicians preach but don't necessarily practice, and that's simplicity. [...] It sticks to the memory; it's very singable. It gets in your blood easily; you can comprehend it easily. It's very rooted, very soulful."[9] The obituary in The Daily Telegraph summarised Silver as "one of the most exhilarating and influential forces in jazz over the last 65 years. His infectious Latin and hard-bop inflected tunes provided an alternative to the languorous 'cool' epitomised by Miles Davis; yet, like Davis, many of his popular and memorable compositions have become 'standards' in the post-war playbook."[26]

BBC News said: "Horace Silver has been described as one of the most influential musicians in the history of jazz."[32]

Ramsey Lewis, a pianist influenced by Silver, wrote that "Horace Silver was one of the hardest swinging piano players in jazz, both as a section player and a soloist."[31]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Atkins, Ronald (June 19, 2014). "Horace Silver Obituary". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ Silver 2006, pp. 1–2.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Keepnews, Peter (June 18, 2014). "Horace Silver, 85, Master of Earthy Jazz, Is Dead".  
  4. ^ Silver 2006, p. 2.
  5. ^ Silver 2006, pp. 2–3.
  6. ^ Silver 2006, p. 3.
  7. ^ "Nação Cabo-verdiana enlutada com o passamento de Horace Silver" (in Portuguese). Government of Cabo Verde. June 20, 2014. Retrieved June 27, 2014. 
  8. ^ Silver 2006, pp. 8–9.
  9. ^ a b c d e f Gallo, Phil (June 19, 2014). "Horace Silver Dies: Hard Bop Jazz Icon Dead at 85". Billboard. 
  10. ^ Silver 2006, pp. 12–13.
  11. ^ a b Silver 2006, p. 51.
  12. ^ Silver 2006, pp. 18–19.
  13. ^ Silver 2006, pp. 18–20.
  14. ^ Silver 2006, pp. 22–23.
  15. ^ Silver 2006, p. 37.
  16. ^ Chagollan, Steve (June 18, 2014). "Horace Silver Dead: Jazz Pianist Dies at 85". Variety. 
  17. ^ Silver 2006, pp. 45–46.
  18. ^ Silver 2006, p. 54.
  19. ^ Silver 2006, p. 46.
  20. ^ Jazz Discography Project. "Horace Silver Discography". Retrieved 2014-06-19. 
  21. ^ a b Chilton, Martin (June 19, 2014). "Horace Silver, Pioneer of Jazz Hard Bop, Dies at 85". London:  
  22. ^ a b c d e f g Stewart, Jocelyn Y. (June 18, 2014). "Horace Silver Dies at 85; Pioneering Jazz Pianist and Composer". Los Angeles Times. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f "Horace Silver Biography, The Official Website of Horace Silver". Retrieved 2014-06-24. 
  24. ^ a b "Horace Silver Dies". (June 18, 2014)
  25. ^ Bogdanov, V., Woodstra, C. and Erlewine, S.T. (2002), All Music Guide to Jazz. Backbeat Books. p. 1156. ISBN 978-0879307172
  26. ^ a b c "Horace Silver – Obituary". London: The Daily Telegraph. June 19, 2014. 
  27. ^ Mergner, Lee. "Jazz Reviews: Let's Get to the Nitty Gritty: The Autobiography of Horace". Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  28. ^ Chris Kelsey. "Horace Silver biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 2014-06-26. 
  29. ^ Du Noyer, Paul (2003). The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music (1st ed.). Flame Tree Publishing. p. 140.  
  30. ^ "Horace Silver - Song For My Father_Booklet by HIGHRESAUDIO". ISSUU. Retrieved 2014-06-24. 
  31. ^ a b Talbott, Chris (June 20, 2014). "Horace Silver Dead: Pioneering Jazz Pianist Dies at 85". 
  32. ^ "BBC News - Horace Silver, top US jazz musician, dies". June 19, 2014. Retrieved 2014-06-20. 
  • Silver, Horace (2006). Let's Get to the Nitty Gritty: The Autobiography of Horace Silver. University of California Press.  

Further reading

  • Silver, Horace (1995) The Art of Small Jazz Combo Playing. Hal Leonard. ISBN 978-0793556885.

External links

  • Horace Silver at the Internet Movie Database
  • Horace Silver Discography at the Hard Bop Home Page
  • Listening In: An Interview with Horace Silver by Bob Rosenbaum, Los Angeles, December 1981 (PDF file)
  • "The Dozens: Twelve Essential Horace Silver Recordings" by Bill Kirchner
  • Myers, Marc (June 19, 2014). "Horace Silver (1928–2014)". JazzWax. 
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