Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians

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Silver, Horace (Ward Martin Tavares Silva)


                            Horace Silver, artwork by Suzanne Cerny

Pianist Horace Silver was one of the first to combine R&B, gospel, and Latin styles with jazz in his compositions. Silver was also a founding member of The Jazz Messengers, where with drummer Art Blakey he helped train several generations of jazz masters.

Horace Silver was born Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva, on September 2, 1928 in Norwalk, Connecticut, a small town near the New York City metropolitan area. Silver’s father was a musician of Portuguese descent, while his mother was of African and Irish heritage. From a young age, Silver was introduced to Portuguese music through his father. This music had a profound impact on the young musician, who later fused elements from the Lusophonic world into his music.

Silver began his musical studies on the saxophone, but soon switched to the piano while in high school. Silver led a trio in and around Connecticut, which tenor saxophonist Stan Getz happened to hear in 1950. Getz was impressed, and asked the trio to back him on some tour dates throughout the country. Silver played with Getz for a little over a year, and in 1951 he moved to New York.

While in New York, Silver was still playing with his 802 union card from his Connecticut local. To apply for a New York card, Silver had to wait six months for approval, which created a hazard for the young musician, who found it hard to find consistent work.

Silver lived in the Bronx when he first arrived in the city, renting a room from a friend’s sister who charged him ten dollars a week. Since Silver was unable to find a steady gig in New York, he would travel across the Hudson River to Cauteret, New Jersey where he played gigs on weekends. While in New York, Silver gigged with tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and bassist Oscar Pettiford. Horace had no piano of his own, so the manager at Birdland, Oscar Goodstein, used to let him come down during the day and practice while the janitor cleaned up the place.

Silver made his recording debut in 1952, when he made several albums with trumpeter Lou Donaldson. On these sessions, he met drummer Art Blakey, who became a close musical collaborator. That same year, Silver signed with Blue Note Records, where he would remain until 1980. Blue Note released the album Sabu, which featured Blakey on drums and interchanged Curley Russell and Percy Heath on bass.

Between February 1953 and February 1954, Silver and Blakey recorded albums as The Jazz Messengers. These albums included A Night At Birdland with Art Blakey, which introduced the world to the phenomenal trumpeter Clifford Brown. This album contained the song “Wee-Dot,” which featured Curley Russell on bass and Lou Donaldson on alto saxophone. In early 1955, Blue Note released the album Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers, which effectively made the group a force to be reckoned with in the jazz world.

This album featured many original compositions by Silver, which include “The Preacher” and “Hankerin.’" The album featured the line up of Silver on piano, Blakey on drums, Hank Mobley on tenor saxophone, Kenny Dorham on trumpet, and Doug Watkins on bass.

In 1955, Silver also appeared on Kenny Dorham’s Blue Note release Afro-Cuban, drummer Kenny Clarke’s Bohemia After Dark, Cannonball Adderley’s Discoveries, and Donald Byrd’s Byrd’s Eye View. Blue Note also released Live At the Café Bohemia by the Jazz Messengers. Silver didn’t stay with the Jazz Messengers for much longer and branched out as a leader releasing 1956’s Six Pieces of Silver. This album featured many of Silver’s compositions including“Enchantment,” “Señor Blues,” and “Cool Eyes.”

The following year Blue Note Released The Stylings of Silver, which featured a very young Louis Hayes on drums, Hank Mobley on tenor, and Art Farmer on trumpet. They covered“My One and Only Love.” on this album.

In 1958, Silver along with bassist Gene Taylor, saxophonist Junior Cook, and trumpeter Louis Smith appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival, which culminated in the Blue Note release, Live at Newport ’58, where the group played songs including Silver’s “Señor Blues”

Silver stayed very busy recording for Blue Note who released Finger Poppin’, Blowin’ the Blues Away, and Horace-Scope in 1959 and 1960. In 1961, Horace Silver recorded several live sets at the Village Gate club in Manhattan, which became the album Doin’ the Thing at the Village Gate, released that same year. It featured several Silver songs including“Filthy McNasty.”

Throughout the 1960s, Silver revamped his groups, introducing largely unknown talent to the jazz masses. This practice coalesced in 1963 with the release of his album Song For My Father.” This album featured the up and coming tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, who would go on to become one of the most recognized tenor players of the latter 20th century. The title track of the album was a bossa nova laced groove dedicated to Silver’s father. The song went on to become a minor in 1964.

In 1965, Silver recorded two albums, The Natives Are Restless Tonight, and The Cape Verdean Blues, which featured a young Woody Shaw on trumpet along with Henderson on tenor and Bob Cranshaw on bass. Silver continued to record albums quite consistently, and in 1968 released the album Serenade To A Soul Sister and 1969’s You Gotta Take a Little Love, which featured Randy Brecker on trumpet, Bennie Maupin on tenor saxophone, and the explosive Billy Cobham on drums.

In 1975, Silver put together a big band to record his dual releases of Silver N’ Brass and Silver’N Wood. These albums featured Ron Carter on bass and Al Foster on drums.

Silver stayed with Blue Note until they were sold to United Artists in 1980 and after that he formed his own label, Silveto. In the early 1980s, Silver recorded far less than in the 60s releasing 1981’s Guides To Growing Up and 1983’s Spiritualizing, both of which featured Eddie Harris on trumpet. In 1985, Horace released Continuity of Spirit and in 1988 released Music To Ease Your Disease, which featured Clark Terry on trumpet, Billy Hart on drums, and Junior Cook on tenor saxophone.

Silver continued to record and tour some through the 1990s but his schedule started to take on a much more relaxed approach as he got older. He released two albums for Columbia/Sony in the 90s including 1993’s It’s Got To Be Funky and 1994’s Pencil Packin’ Papa. Silver released a couple of albums for Impulse in the late 1990s and one for Verve in 1998 called Jazz…Has…A Sense of Humor. Since 2000, Silver has rarely performed, and is said to suffer from Alzheimer’s disease.

Select Discography

As Horace Silver

Sabu (Blue Note, 1952)

The Trio Sides (Blue Note, 1952)

6 Pieces of Silver (Blue Note, 1956)

The Stylings of Silver (Blue Note, 1957)

Horace-Scope (Blue Note, 1960)

Doin’ The Thing (Blue Note, 1961)

Song For My Father (Blue Note, 1964)

It’s Got To Be Funky (Columbia, 1993)

With Kenny Dorham

Afro-Cuban (Blue Note, 1955)

With Miles Davis

Walkin’ (Prestige, 1954)

With Art Blakey

A Night At Birdland With Art Blakey Volume 2 (Blue Note, 1954)

A Night At Birdland With Art Blakey Volume 3 (Blue Note, 1954)

With Art Farmer

Early Art (New Jazz, 1954)

With Stan Getz

The Sound (Roost, 1951)

Contributor: Jared Pauley