Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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SILVER, Horace

(b 2 September 1928, Norwalk CT; d 18 June 2014, New Rochelle NY) Pianist, composer, bandleader, sometime vocalist. His father was Portuguese, from the Cape Verde Islands. His first important job was with a Stan Getz quintet '50-51, then with Art Blakey '51-6: Blue Note LPs by the Horace Silver Trio had Gene Ramey, Curley Russell or Percy Heath on bass, Blakey on drums; then with Blakey's Jazz Messengers on several Blue Note LPs '53-6; he formed his own quintet '56 and his blues-drenched piano, garnished with amusing quotes, and his compositions set the tone for the early Messengers and then for the label itself. Ten-inch LPs Horace Silver Quintet Vol. 1 and 2 '54-5 were combined on a 12-inch Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers including 'Doodlin' ' (covered by Ray Charles) and 'The Preacher'. Silver's Blue '56 appeared on Epic; about 20 Blue Note quintet LPs '56-72 mined the vein thoroughly, defining much of the post-bop mainstream. Those passing through included Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Doug Watkins on bass, Junior Cook on tenor (b 22 July 1934, Pensacola FL; played with Silver '58-64, then with similar Blue Mitchell quintet '64-9; own LPs on Muse), Art Farmer, Clifford Jordan, Blue Mitchell, Woody Shaw, Joe Henderson, the Brecker Brothers, George Coleman, Carmell Jones on trumpet, many more. Six Pieces Of Silver '56 included 'Señor Blues'; title tunes '59-63 included Finger-Poppin', Blowin' The Blues Away, Horace-Scope (included 'Nica's Dream'), Silver's Serenade. In the '60s Lee Morgan ('Sidewinder'), Herbie Hancock ('Watermelon Man', 'Maiden Voyage') built on what Silver had begun, also on Blue Note: he was the most important originator of what is now called funk, which had more soul when he was doing it. LPs Song For My Father '65 and Cape Verdean Blues '66 made the pop top 200 albums; The Jody Grind did not.

In the 1970s his compositions and albums were more ambitious; The United States Of Mind was a trilogy: That Healin' Feelin', Total Response, All '70-2 included electric bass, vocalists Andy Bey, Salome Bey, Jackie Verdel, Gail Nelson on various tracks; Silver 'n Brass '75 had 14 pieces, Silver 'n Wood four-part suites called 'Tranquilizer', 'Process Of Creation'; Silver 'n Voices '76 had quintet plus six voices; Silver 'n Percussion had Olatunji and Camara (African percussion) on one side, Omar Clay (Native American) on the other. (The versatile Clay d 4 December 2008 in San Francisco CA aged 73; he had played in Max Roach's percussion goup M'Boom and with many others, also taught at New York's High School of Music and the Arts; moved to California in 1979.) Silver 'n Strings Play The Music Of The Spheres '78-9 had the quintet plus strings and voices, recorded in four sessions.

He formed his own Silveto label ('Self Help--Holistic--Metaphysical Music') for Guides To Growing Up '81, Spiritualizing The Senses and There's No Need To Struggle '83, quintet including Eddie Harris and voices on first and third, Bill Cosby speaking on Guides. On tour '86 with vocalist Bey his music remained potent according to Larry Kart in the Chicago Tribune, but lyrics in the 'moral-uplift bag' (by Steve Allen, Weaver Copeland etc) were wanting, described by Bob Blumenthal as 'surprisingly inoffensive'. Silveto subsidiary Emerald was established for reissues, began with Horace Silver -- Live 1964 with Henderson and Jones, previously unissued versions of 'Señor Blues', 'Filthy McNasty', 'Skinney Minnie', etc. The Continuity Of Spirit '85 on Silveto paid tribute to Ellington, W. C. Handy and others, Silver's music sinking to the heartfelt but uncompelling quality of his lyrics; Music To Ease Your Disease '88 was more of the same: his piano and soul immediately identifiable, but Bey's vocals wasted on banal lyrics. It's Got To Be Funky '93 (with Bey, Harris, Branford Marsalis) and Pencil Packin' Papa '94 (with Harris, James Moody, four vocals by O.C. Smith) were a return to form; A Prescription For The Blues '97 on Impulse featured the Brecker Brothers.