100 Jazz Profiles
1928 - present
Pianist. One of the most individual and distinctive pianists in jazz, Horace Silver is also a prolific composer, an accomplished bandleader, and one of the main originators of the styles known as hard bop and soul jazz. He grew up in Connecticut, and after accompanying Stan Getz on a local gig, ended up joining the saxophonist's band in 1950.
He made several recordings with Getz , proving that Silver's funky, bluesy style of piano was already well-formed in his early 20s. After relocating to New York in 1951, Silver worked with a wide range of musicians and played regularly at a number of Manhattan clubs. His big break came when Lou Donaldson abruptly cancelled a recording date, and Blue Note asked Silver to make the session instead with his own trio.
This began a long relationship with the label, and provided a platform for his playing with several other leaders, including Miles Davis and Art Blakey, as well as a chance to record many of his own compositions. From 1954-6, Silver and Blakey played in the co-operative Jazz Messengers, until Blakey took over the band and Silver formed his own quintet.
He has led his own groups consistently since 1956. Silver's first breakthrough as a composer came with pieces written for the Messengers, such as The Preacher, but on his own albums he went on to create a string of memorable pieces that similarly combined a catchy tune with a forceful gospel-inspired beat, such as Sister Sadie, Cape Verdean Blues and Song For My Father. His bands have consistently been a training ground for great soloists, and his sidemen have included a host of subsequently famous names.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s he experimented with larger groups and a different style, but from midway through the 80s he returned to hard bop, and in the 1990s signed with Verve records, creating some worthy successors to the many classic albums he made during his 28 years at Blue Note. His piano style involves sharply defined, bluesy right hand phrasing, over a grumbling left-hand bass that is unlike the style of any other player, and remains his immediately identifiable musical signature.
Alyn Shipton: A New History of Jazz (London, Continuum, 2001)
Retrospective (Blue Note 7243 4 95576 2 8) 4 CD set
Suggested track: Sister Sadie
Blue Note Records
Details of Silver's many recordings for the label, plus photos
on radio 3
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