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The Horace Silver Songbook

Many of Horace Silver's compositions, such as “Opus de Funk,” “The Preacher,” “Nica’s Dream,” and “Peace” have become jazz standards heard frequently today.

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Horace Silver

Photo: Wikimedia

Pianist and composer Horace Silver. He passed away on June 18, 2014 at the age of 85.

Jazz pianist Horace Silver was the founding father of hardbop and soul jazz and one of the most renowned figures of the post-World War II jazz scene. Many of his compositions, such as “Opus de Funk,” “The Preacher,” “Nica’s Dream,” and “Peace” have become jazz standards heard frequently today.

Sports or music

Silver was born in Norwalk, Connecticut on September 2, 1928. His father was of Portugese and African descent; his African-American mother had a Caucasian father, giving Silver a diverse heritage that would be reflected in his music. His mother passed away when Horace was only 9, and he was raised primarily by his father and his great-aunt. His father later said, “When Horace was coming up, there were only two things a black guy could be successful in and make money and be something…sports or music. Horace wasn’t interested in sports, so I really pushed him with the music.”

Cooking a la hardbop

Inspired as a teenager by seeing the hard-swinging Jimmy Lunceford band and hearing the Dizzy Gillespie-Charlie Parker record “Groovin’ High,” Silver eventually landed an important gig with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz in 1950. He would go on to become a founding father of the hardbop and soul-jazz schools—music that emphasized driving beats with a funky, gospel-influenced feeling, and blistering solos–”cooking” an adjective often used to describe it–and he appeared on two of its seminal albums, Art Blakey’s A Night at Birdland and Miles Davis’ Walkin’.

The groups that Silver himself led in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s featured some of the most talented young musicians in jazz, such as Donald Byrd, Art Farmer, Joe Henderson, the Brecker Brothers, and Woody Shaw—another way in which he figures as one of the most important figures in post-World War II jazz.

Strong melodic statements

In addition to its multicultural roots and fingersnapping rhythms, Silver’s writing has often been noted for its hooks, its deceptively simple, catchy qualities. In a mid-1960s interview with jazz writer Dan Morgenstern Silver said of his writing, “I prefer a framework. You can take liberties—but not from beginning to end. I also believe in a strong melodic statement up front. In my writing, I strive for melodies that will linger in people’s minds, something that can stick with the listener.” Alluding to the “funky” and “downhome” terms often used to describe his music, he said, “Well, I write the way I feel, and I play the same way. I am very fond of the blues because that’s where it all began.”

“The Horace Silver Songbook” features recordings by Art Blakey, Woody Herman, Art Farmer, Mark Murphy, Eddie Jefferson, Chet Baker, and Horace Silver himself, that exemplify the pianist’s catchy, soulful, and complex-yet-simple writing style, in celebration of his 80th birthday.

Read an early-1960s interview with Silver.

Watch Horace Silver in 1959 playing his composition “Senor Blues”:

Music Heard On This Episode

Blowin' the Blues Away
Horace Silver — Blowin' the Blues Away (Blue Note, 1959)
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Blowin' the Blues Away
Horace Silver — Blowin' the Blues Away (Blue Note, 1959)
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Nica's Dream
Art Farmer — Brass Shout/The Aztec Suite (Blue Note, 1959)
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Opus de Funk
Art Pepper — Art Pepper + 11 (Contemporary, 1959)

Notes: Also available on the Fantasy compilation JAZZ GIANTS PLAY HORACE SILVER.

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Sister Sadie
Woody Herman — Mosaic Select (Mosaic, 1962)
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Melancholy Mood
Horace Silver — Blowin' the Blues Away (Blue Note, 1959)
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Ecaroh
Wes Montgomery — Wes Montgomery Trio (Riverside, 1959)

Notes: Also available on the Fantasy compilation JAZZ GIANTS PLAY HORACE SILVER.

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Split Kick
Art Blakey — Night in Birdland V. 1 (Blue Note, 1954)
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Psychedelic Sally
Eddie Jefferson — Body and Soul (Prestige, 1968)

Notes: Also available on the Fantasy compilation JAZZ GIANTS PLAY HORACE SILVER.

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Senor Blues
Mark Murphy — That's How I Love the Blues! (Riverside, 1962)
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Song for My Father 1
Ran Blake — Horace Is Blue: a Silver Noir (hatOLOGY, 2000)
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Peace
Chet Baker — The More We Know...30 Years of Enja Records (Enja, 1982)
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David Brent Johnson

Born in Indianapolis, Indiana, David Brent Johnson moved to Bloomington in 1991. He is an alumnus of Indiana University, and began working with WFIU in 2002. Currently, David serves as jazz producer and systems coordinator at the station. His interests include literature, history, music, writing, and movies.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/bob.vaneekhout Bob van Eekhout

    The very first jazz composition I remember when I was a kid was “The preacher” which in fact is (as I learned later on) a melody based on the “Show me the way to go home”chords. The Preacher still gives me that early feeling of anxiety as I felt it as a kid an junior drummer. I frequently write about Horacd in my blog as I admire Horace so much as a musician and composer. Listen to his great composition Summer in Central Park. Check out my blog at bobvaneekhout.wordpress.com or http://www.jazztraffic.nl

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