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.
Horace Silver had a very strange 1980s. His sparse recordings came out on his self-owned Silveto label and included things like a dalliance with an orchestra, an album of musical tracts for children, and a piece of “holistic self-help” music about physical health. (Some of it is pretty good; none of it is essential.) It’s Got to Be Funky, released on Columbia Records, represented Silver’s return to the mainstream and showed that he was still the Horace Silver of renown. Indeed, “Basically Blue” suggests he had actually sharpened his piano chops—his solo has new velocity and a refreshed sense of harmonic playfulness. Add to this knock-’em-dead contributions by tenor saxophonists Eddie Harris and Branford Marsalis, as well as trombonist Bob McChesney, and a joyous shout chorus to complement its timeless blues theme.