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Horace Silver

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Silva; Ward Martin Tavares (1928-) Pianist, bandleader, and composer

NPR Audio Feature NPR's Jazz Profiles: Horace Silver
Host Nancy Wilson presents this profile of pianist Horace Silver, a prolific composer who put soul in the funky, hard-bop style he helped to define in the mid 1950s.

As a child Horace Silver was exposed to Cape Verdean folk music performed by his father, who was of Portuguese descent. He began studying saxophone and piano in high school, when his influences were blues singers such as Memphis Slim, and boogie-woogie and bop pianists, especially Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. In 1950, Stan Getz made a guest appearance in Hartford, Connecticut, with Silver's piano trio, and subsequently engaged the group to tour regularly with him. Silver remained with Getz for a year, during which time three of his compositions, Penny, Potter's Luck (written for Tommy Potter), and Split Kick, were recorded.

By 1951, Silver had developed sufficient confidence to move to New York, where he performed as a freelancer with such established professionals as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Oscar Pettiford, and Art Blakey. In 1952 he was engaged by Lou Donaldson for a recording session with Blue Note; this led to his own first recordings as a leader and to an exclusive relationship with Blue Note for the next 28 years. From 1953 to 1955 he played in a cooperative band called the Jazz Messengers which he led with Blakey. By 1956, however, he was performing and recording solely as the leader of his own quintet, while Blakey continued as leader of the Jazz Messengers.

Silver's music was a major force in modern jazz on at least four counts. He was the first important pioneer of the style known as hard bop, which combined elements of rhythm-and-blues and gospel music with jazz, influencing pianists such as Bobby Timmons, Les McCann, and Ramsey Lewis. Second, the instrumentation of his quintet (trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, double bass, and drums) served as a model for small jazz groups from the mid-1950s until the late 1960s. Further, Silver's ensembles provided an important training ground for young players, many of whom (such as Donald Byrd, Art Farmer, Blue Mitchell, Woody Shaw, Benny Golson, and Joe Henderson) later led similar groups of their own. Finally, Silver refined the art of composing and arranging for his chosen instrumentation to a level of craftsmanship as yet unsurpassed in jazz.

He is a prolific composer, and one of very few jazz musicians to record almost exclusively original material; his work consistently combines simplicity and profundity in a rhythmically infectious style, which, despite its sophistication, sounds completely natural. Several of his compositions have become jazz standards, including The Preacher, Doodliti, Opus de Funk, Seflor Blues, Nica's Dream, Sister Sadie, and Song for my Father. From the mid-1960s Silver has written lyrics as well as music for a series of three quintet recordings, The United States of Mind, and recorded a number of albums featuring the quintet with ensembles of brass, woodwind, percussion, voices, and strings. His quintet continued to tour regularly in the 1980s, performing a wide range of material from his impressive and influential library of original works.

The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For personal, non-commercial use only. Copying or other reproduction is prohibited.
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