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.
2. “The Preacher” (Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers; Blue Note, 1956 [originally recorded February 6, 1955])
Horace Silver’s musical career begins a few years before this, when his Hartford, Connecticut trio landed its gig with Getz. The Horace Silver phenomenon, however, begins with “The Preacher.” Its chord changes come from the popular song “Show Me the Way to Go Home,” but its rhythm and melody come straight out of the Black church. (The melody bears a more-than-passing resemblance to “Down by the Riverside.”) Solos by trumpeter Kenny Dorham, saxophonist Hank Mobley, and Silver all but have hot sauce poured over them. Bassist Doug Watkins and drummer Art Blakey’s steady support may be unadorned, but who needs adornment when you’ve got this kind of pocket? Come for all that, but stay for the searing call-and-response near the end between Silver and his hornmen.