Legendary jazz pianist Horace Silver. (Photo:  Google Images)
Legendary jazz pianist Horace Silver. (Photo: Google Images)

Hard Bop pioneer and pianist Horace Silver has died. Silver, who suffered from Alzheimer’s Disease in recent years, was one of the most popular and influential jazz musicians of the 1950s and 1960s. Early in his career, Silver collaborated with jazz greats Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Clifford Brown and Lester Young. He formed the seminal Jazz Messengers along with Art Blakey whose “aggressive style helped define hard bop and whose lineup of trumpet, tenor saxophone, piano, bass and drums became the standard hard-bop instrumentation.” On their first album, released in 1954, Silver wrote all but one of the songs, then left the band a year later to go solo.

Peter Keepnews of The New York Times writes:

“Hard bop and cool jazz shared a pedigree: They were both variations on bebop, the challenging, harmonically intricate music that changed the face of jazz in the 1940s. But hard bop was simpler and more rhythmically driven, with more emphasis on jazz’s blues and gospel roots. The jazz press tended to portray the adherents of cool jazz (most of them West Coast-based and white) and hard bop (most of them East Coast-based and black) as warring factions. But Mr. Silver made an unlikely warrior.”

Keepnews continues:

“His piano playing, like his compositions, was not that easily characterized. Deftly improvising ingenious figures with his right hand while punching out rumbling bass lines with his left, he managed to evoke boogie-woogie pianists like Meade Lux Lewis and beboppers like Bud Powell simultaneously. Unlike many bebop pianists, however, Mr. Silver emphasized melodic simplicity over harmonic complexity; his improvisations, while sophisticated, were never so intricate as to be inaccessible.”

Phil Gallo of Billboard writes:

“Between 1955 and 1980, Silver made more than 20 records for Blue Note, among them revered titles such as “Song for My Father” in 1964, “Blowin’ the Blues Away” in 1959 and “The Jody Grind” in 1966. His bands often featured the trumpeter Blue Mitchell and tenor saxophonist Junior Cook.”

Gallo adds:

“During his fertile period with Blue Note, Silver wrote the hard bop classics ‘Song for My Father,’ ‘Senor Blues,’ ‘The Preacher’ and ‘Filthy McNasty.’ His funky, melodic style as a composer and pianist had significant commercial appeal at a time when jazz was splintering into factions and fading from the mainstream. His “Song for My Father (Cantiga Para Meu Pai)” hit No. 95 on the Billboard 200 in 1965 and year later “The Cape Verdean Blues” reached No. 130.”

Silver was born on September 2, 1928, in Norwalk, Connecticut to John Tavares Silva, who was from the island of Maio in Cape Verde and his mother, who was born in New Canaan, Connecticut, and was of Irish-African descent. Silver’s mother died when he was 9-years-old. His father Anglicized the family’s name to Silver and taught him the folk music of Cape Verde, which influenced his style of music.

Silver is survived by a son. Horace Silver was 85.

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