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.
7. “The Merger of the Minds” (The United States of Mind; Blue Note, 2004 [originally recorded February 14, 1972])
This is nobody’s idea of a typical Horace Silver record. The United States of Mind was originally a trilogy of three albums (1970’s That Healin’ Feelin’, 1971’s Total Response, and 1972’s All) that were Silver’s foray into writing lyrics—mainly about the spirituality and social consciousness of the period. “The Merger of the Minds” opens All and only features vocals—by Andy and Salome Bey—at the conclusion. The rest of it is an au courant mix of Hendrixian blues guitar, soul, hard funk, and electric jazz. Critically savaged at the time, United States of Mind deserves better than its reputation. Among other things, despite its amalgamation of styles, “The Merger of the Minds” still sounds like Horace Silver, stacked with punchy horn lines, soulful harmonic tang, and swing that shows through even the funk beats (James Brown funk this time) he has Mickey Roker laying down on the drums.