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.
Once again, a misleading title. That said, “Psychedelic Sally” isn’t just business as usual: It finds Silver crossing over into hard-pumping soul jazz that all but does the boogaloo out of your speakers. Silver, Bob Cranshaw (on electric bass), and Mickey Roker play a groove more at home on a Stax album than a Blue Note one, and Stanley Turrentine plays a salty sax solo that groans under the weight of the funk it carries. Trumpeter Charles Tolliver and Silver follow, absolutely scorching up the joint. When Tolliver and Turrentine come together behind Silver’s playing, they sound remarkably like a full-on horn section. The Mar-Keys themselves couldn’t have put any more stank on “Psychedelic Sally.” The crescendo that ends the tune will knock your socks off.