Jazz pianist Horace Silver dies at age 85

Hard bop notable recorded exclusively for Blue Note Records over three decades

Horace Silver in an image from the sleeve of the Blue Note record Senor Blues - Cool Eyes.

Horace Silver in an image from the sleeve of the Blue Note record Senor Blues - Cool Eyes.

Thu, Jun 19, 2014, 08:49

Jazz musician Horace Silver, a composer known for pioneering hard bop, has died at age 85.

Silver, a native of Norwalk, Connecticut, was shaped by the Portuguese influence in the islands of Cape Verde, from where his family emigrated to the US.

Alongside playing with noted jazz musicians such as bassist Oscar Pettiford and drummer Art Blakey, Silver, who played piano and saxophone, recorded exclusively for Blue Note Records over three decades before founding his own label, Silveto Records.

Horace Silver plays Senor Blues in 1959

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Silver composed music featuring percussive, hard-driving beats that was inspired by his philosophy of holistic self-help, according to jazz critic Leonard Feather writing in his Encyclopedia of Jazz.

His most notable works include Song For My Father, inspired by Cape Verdean folk music, and gospel-driven The Preacher. His work also appeared on a number of Miles Davis’s albums, including 1954’s Walkin’.

National Public Radio said Silver’s son Gregory had called the station directly with news of his death. Attempts to reach Silver’s family were unsuccessful.

The composer and bandleader, one of the most popular and influential jazz musicians of the 1950s and ’60s, died yesterday at his home in New Rochelle, New York.

After a high-profile apprenticeship with some of the biggest names in jazz, Silver began leading his own group in the mid-1950s and quickly became a big name himself, celebrated for his clever compositions and his infectious, bluesy playing.

At a time when the refined, quiet and, to some, bloodless style known as cool jazz was all the rage, he was hailed as a leader of the back-to-basics movement that came to be called hard bop.

Hard bop and cool jazz shared a pedigree: They were both variations on bebop, the challenging, harmonically intricate music that changed the face of jazz in the 1940s. But hard bop was simpler and more rhythmically driven, with more emphasis on jazz’s blues and gospel roots.

The jazz press tended to portray the adherents of cool jazz (most of them west coast-based and white) and hard bop (mostly east coast-based and black) as warring factions. But Silver made an unlikely warrior.

“I personally do not believe in politics, hatred or anger in my musical composition,” he wrote in the liner notes to his album Serenade to a Soul Sister in 1968. “Musical composition should bring happiness and joy to people and make them forget their troubles.”

And Silver’s music was never as one-dimensional as it was sometimes portrayed as being. In an interview early in his career he said he was aiming for “that old-time gut-bucket barroom feeling with just a taste of the backbeat”. That approach was reflected in the titles he gave to songs, like Sister Sadie, Filthy McNasty and The Preacher, all of which became jazz standards.

His piano playing, like his compositions, was not that easily characterised. Deftly improvising ingenious figures with his right hand while punching out rumbling bass lines with his left, he managed to evoke boogie-woogie pianists like Meade Lux Lewis and beboppers like Bud Powell simultaneously.

Unlike many bebop pianists, however, Silver emphasised melodic simplicity over harmonic complexity; his improvisations, while sophisticated, were never so intricate as to be inaccessible.