|Pianist/Composer/Bandleader, Horace Silver|
The great Horace Silver, born (Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva) September 2, 1928. His father John Tavares Silva (later changed to 'Silver') was born in the Cape Verde Islands (off the coast of West Africa). He worked at the Norwalk Tire Company, in Norwalk, Connecticut. Silver's mother, Gertrude Silver, was born in New Canaan, Connecticut, and did domestic work for film and television actress Patsy Kelly, Hollywood stars Boris Karloff and Betty Davis, and author Ellery Queen. Horace Silver died on June 18, 2014 at age 85. He rose to become an authentic jazz giant.
If you did not know anything about jazz, had never heard it, or didn't like it, you could not stop yourself from loving Horace Silver's jazz music if you heard him play. That is how powerful his talent was. His music had the emotional character of a hypnotic encounter with a happy spirit.
Silver's story is compelling, inspiring, informative, and deserves to be told. He knows where many of the bodies in jazz are 'buried.' He enjoyed a long, successful career, and a great life; blessings that eluded many great jazz musicians. It seems they were here, and then they were gone. It is fair to say that Horace Silver was a quintessential survivor. A survivor that lived by a seminal piece of advice given to him by his mother when he was a young boy. She died when he was seven years old. Silver poured the love and dedication for the mother he lost as a child into his music, and engaged in a lifelong love affair with "Lady Music."
Horace Silver played piano and tenor saxophone throughout high school and continued into his twenties playing gigs around Connecticut: Norwalk, Newhaven, Hartford, Stamford, Greenwich; and in New York: West Chester County, Port Chester, White Plains, Tarrytown, and Mount Vernon. He stopped playing tenor saxophone after a jam session (1953) with tenor saxophonist Sonny Stitt at the Paradise Club in New York. Stitt "crucified" (Silver's quote) Silver. He put the tenor down for good, and concentrated solely on piano.
Silver's piano influence started with boogie-woogie, the blues, and included the styles of Art Tatum, from whom he also learned the art of quoting songs in his piano solos, Thelonious Monk, Teddy Wilson, Nat Cole, and Bud Powell. Silver also blended into his piano concepts the 'voicings' of Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Miles Davis. His piano style and composing are influenced by Latin music, Black Gospel music, symphonic music, Broadway show music and folk music. Silver's music always breathed easily, and smiled like he did; bright and arresting. Silver disclosed in his autobiography, "Let's Get To The Nitty Gritty," that he learned more about composing from Miles Davis than anyone else, and that the first two chords on "Nica's Dream" came from Miles.
Working with tenor saxophonist Stan Getz (circa 1947) got Horace Silver exposed to jazz clubs (gigs) in Philadelphia, and Chicago. He heard pianist/bandleader Sun Ra, violinist Stuff Smith, tenor saxophonists John Gilmore, Johnny Griffin, Clifford Jordan, Eddie Harris, and bassist Wilbur Ware. Silver would eventually meet his idol, tenor saxophonist Lester "Prez" Young, at Minton's Playhouse in Harlem in 1953. During these formative years, Silver endured many personal indignities from the police because he was a black jazz musician. It did not help that many of the jazz musicians he had to work with were known 'junkies' who brought pushers, hustlers, pimps and prostitutes to the jazz scene. All of this caused a brutal response from vice squads. Silver felt that the Philadelphia police were the toughest, most ruthless he encountered, and that the Philadelphia justice system was one of the most dishonest and corrupt. It was in Philadelphia that the police pulled over a car in which Silver was traveling with Art Blakey, his band boy Ahmed, who was a heroin 'mainliner,' and Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter's daughter, Janka, who was white. A search of the car turned up a loaded gun and shells that belonged to Blakey, and Benzedrine tablets belonging to Janka. Silver spent time in a city jail even though he was clean. His father bailed him out and got the charges dropped by paying off the judge. Through it all, Silver maintained a profound sense of dignity, integrity and maturity that underscored his determination and commitment to succeed as a jazz musician.
Silver saw first hand how heroin addiction methodical destroyed two towering jazz geniuses in their prime: alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, and bebop pianist Bud Powell. He recounted once seeing Parker so high on heroin that he (Parker) literally did not know where he was. Still Silver regarded Parker and pianist Art Tatum as super-geniuses. He thought also, that tenor saxophonist Lester Young and pianist/composer Thelonious Monk made the most selfless sacrifices for jazz music, that pianists Errol Garner, and Earl Hines had the strongest fingers on the keyboard, and that Art Blakey was one of jazz's greatest drummers. He credited Blakey with instilling in him that he should never bring his personal problems to the bandstand. Instead, to leave them at the door. Silver regarded Louis Armstrong as the best trumpet soloist, and Miles Davis as the most elegant, lyrical modernist and minimalist, for their time. He was convinced that Armstrong's significance could not be over stated because his influence extended beyond trumpet players, to all musicians in general, from pianist Earl Hines, to singer Billie Holiday, to composer/bandleader Duke Ellington. He concluded that no one could 'scat' like Ella Fitzgerald.
Horace Silver/Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers were formed in 1954, after Silver left Stan Getz, whom he regarded as "a hell of a musician," in spite of Getz's addiction to heroin. Silver joined Blue Note, and became an enduring Blue Note "Sun." He recorded for the label for almost three decades, was a witness to the laying of the foundations of bebop and hardbop, and toiled with Dizzy, Bird and Blakey to position cornerstones for both jazz genres. The story of Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers is an intriguing one: It starts with tenor saxophonist Lou Donaldson (who never became a Jazz Messenger).
Alfred Lion, a co-founder of Blue Note Records, heard Donaldson playing at a jam session at the Paradise Bar in New York, and engaged him to do a quartet session for Blue Note. Donaldson got Silver to play piano, and invited trumpeter Blue Mitchell to check out the group, and play on a few tracks (this is where Silver met Blue Mitchell). Silver completed two sessions with the quartet, and a third was planned, but Donaldson was unable to make the third session, so Silver proceeded to record three trio albums for Lion. Art Blakey played drums on all three trio sessions. Gene Ramey played bass on the first; Curly Russell played bass on the second, and Percy Heath played bass on the third. Lion then asked Silver for a fourth trio session. Silver decided to add horns for the fourth session, and brought in trumpeter Kenny Dorham, and tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley. Doug Watkins played bass, with Art Blakey on drums. The recording was released on 2 - 10 inch vinyl records under the name the Horace Silver Quintet. Later these recordings were compiled and released on a 12 inch vinyl as Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers. It contained such tunes as, "Doodlin'," "The Preacher," and "Room 608." It was out of these sessions in 1954-55 that the Jazz Messengers was born. The name "Jazz Messengers" probably originated with Art Blakey, since he had led a group called 'The Messengers' before he met Silver. Silver is emphatic that this was one of the 'greatest' groups he had the privilege of working with.
Unfortunately this particular Jazz Messengers band lasted only one and a half years. Silver left the band because every player in the band except bassist Doug Watkins, and himself, was addicted to drugs. Silver did not even smoke or drink. Everywhere they played, Silver said, they were checked for drugs by the vice squad. Players were chronically late to club dates. They often got sick on the bandstand. Some club owners refused to pay them. On many occasions, The Baroness Pannonica de Koenigswarter, for whom Silver wrote, "Nica's Dream," would have to wire them money to pay out of town hotel bills so that they could get back to New York. When they were traveling she bought their uniforms and shoes.
Decidedly a tough beginning, but ultimately rewarding. By the time time Silver got done with his jazz career, he would have recorded with most of the giants, and more: Stan Getz, J. J.Johnson, Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Al Cohn, Lou Donaldson, Coleman Hawkins, Hank Mobley, Art Farmer, Terry Gibbs, Gigi Gryce, and Miles Davis. Also, Silver did work with a multitude of other jazz luminaries that was not recorded: John Coltrane was one of them.
END OF PART 1
NEXT PART 2: "THE QUINTET" AND BEYOND