The sound that Horace Silver pioneered in the ’50s and ’60s—for a while, all but synonymous with the sound of Blue Note Records—is for many people still the very definition of jazz. Raised in Connecticut and breaking through as a sideman for tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, Silver seems at first to be surrounded by “white bread” clichés. Yet nobody did more than the pianist, composer, and bandleader to ensure that jazz remained a distinctly African American idiom. Silver throttled bebop’s sense of swing up to 10 and its quotients of blues, gospel, and “the Spanish tinge” up to about 14. In the process he helped give birth to an idiom called “hard bop,” and had no small part in the subsequent development of soul jazz. His compositions “The Preacher,” “Doodlin’,” “Nica’s Dream,” and “Song for My Father” all became beloved standards.
An underappreciated aspect of his artistry, though, was Silver’s ability to make any tune, from any tradition, and even those traditions themselves, sound like Horace Silver. He put his indelible stamp on everything he touched … not least the very core of jazz. Here are 10 of his most important efforts.
The title would have been too risqué back in the day, but the actual composition and delivery of “I Love Annie’s Fanny” (from what would prove to be Silver’s final album before health issues sidelined him) might have fit on to any of the classic Silver Blue Notes. Jimmy Greene’s tenor sax and Ryan Kisor’s trumpet solos know this all too well; they play as though soaking in the old definition of funk music. Bassist John Webber and drummer Willie Jones III swing like the dickens. Silver, of course, is Silver, driving that soul home just as he always had.