THE DOZENS: HORACE SILVER by Bill Kirchner

Perceptive commentators such as Martin Williams and Bob Blumenthal have written about the creative craftsmanship of pianist-composer Horace Silver (b. 1928), and rightly so. Without such skills, Silver couldn’t have amassed such an important and distinctive body of work—one that spans five decades.


                            Horace Silver, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

Yet, I think that Silver’s impact goes beyond craftsmanship. If Tadd Dameron (1917-1965) is the under-acknowledged godfather of hard bop—that music’s Fletcher Henderson and Don Redman, and one of Silver’s avowed influences—then Silver has been hard bop’s Duke Ellington. (His closest competition for that title is probably tenor saxophonist/composer Benny Golson.) The trumpet-and-tenor quintet has been Silver’s orchestra, and within its seeming limitations he has created a personal, evolving musical language. And he has been more of an innovator than has been recognized; see “Cookin’ at the Continental” for an example.

Surveying these dozen selections, any listener, I’m sure, will be impressed by the richness, inventiveness and sheer variety of the music of Horace Silver.


Horace Silver: Doodlin'

Track

Doodlin'

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers (Blue Note 7 243 8 64478 2 1)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Kenny Dorham (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Doug Watkins (bass), Art Blakey (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, November 13, 1954

Albumcoverhoracesilverandthejazzmessengers

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

From one of the classic hard-bop albums comes Horace Silver's first hit. Take a simple riff, rhythmically displace it several times over D-flat blues harmonies, resolve it with a staccato, quasi-humorous phrase, and you have "Doodlin'." (It's far less easy to do than that sounds.) Silver's solo is the highlight of this performance—the essence of inspired simplicity. Jon Hendricks later wrote engaging lyrics to the theme and piano solo; they can be heard on Lambert, Hendricks & Bavan at Basin Street East.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Señor Blues

Track

Señor Blues

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

Six Pieces of Silver (Blue Note 25648)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Doug Watkins (bass), Louis Hayes (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Hackensack, N.J., November 10, 1956

Albumcoversixpiecesofsilver

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

After the demise of the cooperative group known as The Jazz Messengers (Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Horace Silver, Doug Watkins, Art Blakey), Silver put together his own quintet and recorded Six Pieces of Silver. He hadn't intended to become a working bandleader, but the success of "Señor Blues" created a demand for the Horace Silver Quintet and launched Silver as a leader.

"Señor Blues" is a 12/8 Latin piece with a dark, exotic flavor that recalls no other jazz composer as much as Duke Ellington. The first two chords are E-flat minor and B7, resembling (whether consciously intended or not) one of Ellington's favorite harmonic gestures. Donald Byrd, Mobley and Silver carefully maintain the atmosphere of the piece in their solos. In that respect, Silver's dense chording behind the two horns is an enormous help; his own solo, after a written interlude by the horns, is an effective contrast.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Cool Eyes

Track

Cool Eyes

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

Six Pieces of Silver (Blue Note 25648)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Donald Byrd (trumpet), Hank Mobley (tenor sax), Doug Watkins (bass), Louis Hayes (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, November 10, 1956

Albumcoversixpiecesofsilver

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

From the same Horace Silver album as his hit "Señor Blues," "Cool Eyes," with its 32-bar AABA theme, is a delightful example of Silver's much-heralded craftsmanship. The harmonies are among the most basic in jazz: "I Got Rhythm" in the A sections, "Honeysuckle Rose" in the B section. What Silver does with them, though, is highly original. Note the last eight bars of the theme, for example, where he doubles the two horns with his piano, changing the color of the line in a fresh and unexpected way. Add to that a catchy written interlude between solos, plus a surprise ending, and the result is one of the most attractive "Rhythm"/"Honeysuckle Rose" contrafacts.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Cookin' at the Continental

Track

Cookin' at the Continental

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

Finger Poppin' (Blue Note BST-84008)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Junior Cook (tenor sax), Gene Taylor (bass), Louis Hayes (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Hackensack, NJ, January 31, 1959

Albumcoverhoracesilver-fingerpoppin

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

The album Finger Poppin' introduced Horace Silver's longest-lasting front line, Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook, who worked with the pianist from 1959 to 1964. However, the highlight of "Cookin' at the Continental," a medium-up blues, is Silver's piano solo, one of his most harmonically adventurous on record. Silver's use of fourths in his lines must have intrigued such gifted then-up-and-comers as McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock and especially Chick Corea. (Want a revealing comparison? Play this recording back to back with Corea's 1968 version of "Matrix"—also a medium-up blues—on Now He Sings, Now He Sobs. You'll hear an interesting lineage.)

In 1994, the GRP All-Star Big Band recorded an arrangement of "Cookin' at the Continental" by Michael Abene on the album All Blues. The climax of the chart is Abene's orchestration of a transcription of Silver's recorded piano solo—a textbook example of the value of an improvisation as composition.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Sister Sadie

Track

Sister Sadie

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

Blowin' the Blues Away (Blue Note BST-84017)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Junior Cook (tenor sax), Gene Taylor (bass), Louis Hayes (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, August 30, 1959

Albumcoverhoracesilver-blowinthebluesaway

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

This irresistible gospel-inflected piece is one of Horace Silver's most popular and enduring compositions. It's also probably as close as five musicians will ever come to sounding like a big band—a tribute to Silver's writing. It's no coincidence that at least three big bands (Woody Herman, Buddy Rich, and the University of Illinois Jazz Band) followed in the 1960s with recorded arrangements of this tune. But it's hard to beat Silver's own treatment; his quintet shouts, dances and roars.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Lonely Woman

Track

Lonely Woman

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

Song For My Father (Blue Note 7 24349 90022 6)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Gene Taylor (bass), Roy Brooks (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 31, 1963

Albumcoversongformyfather

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

Horace Silver's ballad playing isn't always completely satisfying for me, especially when his fondness for quoting mars the atmosphere of a ballad performance. But here he sets a mood and maintains it in gripping, singer-like fashion. This song—not to be confused with either the Benny Carter or Ornette Coleman piece of the same title—should be better known; it's one of Silver's loveliest compositions. After the breakup of Silver's 1959-64 group, this track and "Calcutta Cutie" were used to fill out the Song For My Father album by the successor quintet.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Song For My Father

Track

Song For My Father

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

Song For My Father (Blue Note 99002)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Carmell Jones (trumpet), Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Teddy Smith (bass), Roger Humphries (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 26, 1964

Albumcoversongformyfather

Rating: 100/100 (learn more)

This is the title track of what is arguably Horace Silver's greatest album, and undoubtedly his biggest hit as well. It's from the first release by Silver's then-new quintet, formed after he broke up the band that had served him so well for five years (1959-64).

Silver wrote "Song For My Father" after visiting pianist Sergio Mendes in Brazil, and considering that Silver's father came from the Cape Verde Islands, the Portuguese/Brazilian connection was a natural. The opening vamp (later borrowed by Steely Dan for its hit "Rikki Don't Lose That Number") leads to one of Silver's most affecting themes, and then to perfect solos by, respectively, the leader and Joe Henderson. Henderson's is one of the great motivically based solos in recorded jazz—all derived from his three opening notes. And it's as soulful and exciting as it is ingenious.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Pretty Eyes

Track

Pretty Eyes

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

The Cape Verdean Blues (Blue Note 7 243 5 90839 2 6)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Woody Shaw (trumpet), Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Roger Humphries (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 1, 1965

Albumcoverhoracesilver-thecapeverdeanblues

Rating: 94/100 (learn more)

By the time that Horace Silver recorded The Cape Verdean Blues (certainly among his half-dozen best albums), the precocious trumpeter Woody Shaw had replaced Carmell Jones. Being between bass players, Silver used studio stalwart Bob Cranshaw for his first of several appearances on Silver's albums in the 1960s and '70s.

In his liner notes, Leonard Feather described "Pretty Eyes" as "…Horace's first recorded original jazz waltz." And a superior one it is—singable and most suitable for blowing. Shaw and Joe Henderson (one of the finest two-horn teams in jazz history, as they proved with Silver, organist Larry Young, and on their own) are alternately lyrical, probing and tough. Silver is spare and in a quoting mood.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Nutville

Track

Nutville

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

The Cape Verdean Blues (Blue Note 7 243 5 90839 2 6)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Woody Shaw (trumpet), J.J. Johnson (trombone), Joe Henderson (tenor sax), Bob Cranshaw (bass), Roger Humphries (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 22, 1965

Albumcoverhoracesilver-thecapeverdeanblues

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

On half of The Cape Verdean Blues, Horace Silver added guest J.J. Johnson to his quintet. This enables us to hear Johnson soloing in a Silverian context, and also to hear Silver's writing for three horns instead of the usual two.

Silver makes full use of Johnson both as soloist and ensemble player. "Nutville," a galloping minor-blues mambo/jazz hybrid, is a barnburner from start to finish, with memorable solos by the three horns, Silver, and Roger Humphries. Humphries at the time was a highly promising drummer barely in his 20s. He made three albums with Silver and eventually returned home to Pittsburgh, where he has had a distinguished if relatively low-visibility career to this day.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: In Pursuit of the 27th Man

Track

In Pursuit of the 27th Man

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

In Pursuit of the 27th Man (Blue Note 7 243 5 35758 2 3)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), David Friedman (vibes), Bob Cranshaw (electric bass), Mickey Roker (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, October 6, 1972

Albumcoverhoracesilver-inpursuitofthe27thman

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Here's a rare item in Horace Silver's discography as a leader: a session with vibraphonist David Friedman and no horns. (Flutist Hubert Laws was originally slated to have been involved as well, but was prevented from doing so by his record company.) "In Pursuit of the 27th Man" was one of four pieces recorded by this quartet. The album was completed with three other selections by Silver, Bob Cranshaw, Mickey Roker, and two then-rising young players, trumpeter Randy Brecker and his younger brother, tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker.

This tune finds Silver in a modal mood—C Phrygian, to be precise. It also shows him as a more interactive accompanist than has usually been the case. This is especially true during the last half of the track. (Typically, Silver—to quote critic Martin Williams— "bounces, barks and chops" behind soloists, to generally positive effect.)

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Kissin' Cousins

Track

Kissin' Cousins

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

Silver 'N Brass (out-of-print vinyl LP only) (Blue Note BN-LA 406-G)

Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Tom Harrell (trumpet), Bob Berg (tenor sax), Bob Cranshaw (electric bass), Bernard Purdie (drums),

Bobby Bryant, Oscar Brashear (trumpets), Vince DeRosa (French horn), Frank Rosolino (trombone), Maurice Spears (bass trombone), Jerome Richardson (alto & soprano saxes, flute), Buddy Collette (alto sax, flute)

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Composed by Horace Silver. Orchestrated by Wade Marcus

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Recorded: New York and Hollywood, January 17, 1975 and ?

Albumcoverhoracesilver-silvernbrass

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

Tom Harrell and Bob Berg were Horace Silver's bright lights in the mid-1970s, and here they were part of an unusual project: the quintet laid down its tracks, and then Wade Marcus orchestrated Silver's voicings and overdubbed seven more horns playing them. It all worked quite well—the first in a series of '70s Silver albums that included woodwinds, percussion, voices and/or strings.

"Kissin' Cousins" is '70s funk á la Silver, and it burns appropriately. Berg in particular gets into the spirit of things; tenor saxophone, after all, is the solo instrument for a groove like this. And speaking of funk grooves, studio mainstay Bernard Purdie's is unbeatable.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


Horace Silver: Serenade to a Teakettle

Track

Serenade to a Teakettle

Artist

Horace Silver (piano)

CD

The Hardbop Grandpop (Impulse IMPD-192)

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Musicians:

Horace Silver (piano), Claudio Roditi (trumpet), Steve Turre (trombone), Michael Brecker (tenor sax), Ronnie Cuber (baritone sax), Ron Carter (bass), Lewis Nash (drums).

Composed by Horace Silver

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Recorded: New York, February 29 or March 1, 1996

Albumcoverhoracesilver-thehardbopgrandpop

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

The Hardbop Grandpop, despite its all-star cast, is overall not one of Horace Silver's finest albums; judged by Silver's own past standards, the compositions are mostly good but not exceptional. Nonetheless, "Serenade to a Teakettle" is a fine example of late Silver, and definitely one of this CD's high points. In addition, it gives us a rare chance to hear Silver writing for four horns—at times contrapuntally, which is unusual for him. Soloists Claudio Roditi, Ronnie Cuber and Silver all dig deeply into this 6/4 Latin opus.

Reviewer: Bill Kirchner


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