Born Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silver, September 2, 1928, in Norwalk, CT; son of John and Gertrude (Edmounds) Silver. Addresses: Agent--Joanne Jimenez, The Bridge Agency, 110 Salem Rd., Pound Ridge, NY 10516; Record company--GRP/Impulse Records, 555 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019.

In 1996 Horace Silver released a recording called The Hardbop Grandpop. That could just as well be the title of his biography. Silver helped define the jazz style known as hard-bop back in the 1950s. Nearly half a century later, he remains among the jazz elite. Silver's status as a giant of jazz is reflected by the list of artists with whom he has been associated. He got his first big break from Stan Getz, learned his basics from Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, honed his style with Miles Davis, broke ground with Art Blakey, and taught the ropes to Tom Harrell and the Brecker brothers, Michael and Randy. Along the way, by making the rhythm funky and keeping the melody simple, Silver has produced a huge body of jazz classics that continues to grow.

Horace Silver was born on September 2, 1928 in Norwalk, Connecticut. His father, John, was an immigrant from Cape Verde, a group of islands off the western coast of Africa, and the Latin- flavored folk music of that country would later find its way into Horace's compositions. Silver began taking piano lessons when he was about ten years old. A couple of years later, he was bitten by the jazz bug when he heard the legendary Jimmy Lunceford's band perform at a nearby amusement park. From that point on, Silver knew that he wanted to be a musician.

By his teens, Silver was copying note-for-note the solos of early jazz pianists such as Earl Hines and Art Tatum. For a while he took up tenor sax, with the great Lester Young serving as his role model. Silver's self-education then led him to listen to bebop pioneers Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. Eventually, he settled on Bud Powell and Thelonius Monk as his main jazz heroes. By the time he finished high school, Silver was a regular on the local club scene and even led his own trio. Silver's big break came in 1950, when his trio was serving as the backup band for the visiting Stan Getz at Hartford, Connecticut's Sundown Club. Getz was so impressed that he quickly hired Silver on as a member of his quartet for the next two years.

After his stint with Getz, Silver decided he was ready to move to New York. He quickly found work playing with some of the very musicians he had been idolizing for years, including Hawkins and Young. In 1953 Silver cut the first of his many albums on the Blue Note label, as part of a trio. By the following year, he was leading a group that included tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley and bassist Doug Watkins. This ensemble had a steady gig at a Harlem club called Minton's. Silver was named top "new star" for 1954 in Down Beat magazine's annual poll. The Minton's band soon evolved into the Jazz Messengers, with the addition of drummer and co- leader Art Blakey and trumpet player Kenny Dorham. They recorded a 1954 album under the name Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers.

The Jazz Messengers--without Silver's name in front--recorded a live album in 1955. Silver then left the band, taking Mobley and Dorham with him, while Blakey carried on as leader of a group by that name for decades to come. With his new quintet, Silver began to further develop a distinct identity as a composer. By taking bebop and eliminating some of the complexity, while injecting elements of gospel, blues, and soul, and funkifying the beat a tad, Silver and his imitators were inventing "hard-bop."

Silver's 1956 album Six Pieces of Silver produced his first hit, "Senor Blues." From that point on, he was in more or less constant demand. For the next few years, his band was a revolving-door unit, with a shifting cast that included at different times Mobley, Dorham, Art Farmer, Doug Watkins, Art Taylor, and Clifford Jordan. From 1958 to 1964, Silver's band had a fairly stable lineup that featured the front line of Blue Mitchell on trumpet and Junior Cook on tenor sax. This group recorded some of Silver's best-known compositions, including "Sister Sadie" from Blowin' The Blues Away (1959) and "Nica's Dream" from Horace-Scope (1960).

In 1964, Silver recorded "Song For My Father" on an album of the same title. The song became a huge hit, and the album made Billboard's top 200 pop chart. Audiences since then have almost never allowed Silver to leave the stage without playing the song. In 1965 he released the album Cape Verdean Blues, a tribute to the folk music he had learned from his father. In the late 1960s, Silver experienced a sort of spiritual awakening, which was reflected in his music. In 1970 he released an album called The United States of Mind, which included Silver's own quasi- philosophical lyrics.

In the 1970s Silver collaborated with arranger Wade Marcus on a series of albums with similar titles: Silver 'n Brass, Silver 'n Wood, and Silver 'n Voices. During this period, his bands included a number of young musicians who have gone on to become stars in their own right, including Michael Brecker and trumpeter Tom Harrell. Brecker, according to Down Beat, said his stint with Silver "was like a university of jazz." While Silver felt that his more spiritually oriented work of the 1970s was important, he believed that the people at Blue Note wanted him to go back to the more straight ahead brand of jazz that had sold so well in the 1960s. Unwilling to haggle over the direction of his music, Silver left Blue Note, the only company he had ever recorded for, in 1980 and formed his own label, Silveto.

Silver continued to record and tour steadily throughout the 1980s. Among his albums of that period were Spiritualizing the Senses and Music to Ease Your Disease. He also put out an album of previously unreleased live material from 1964. Silver showed no signs of slowing down in the 1990s. He released three new albums between 1990 and 1996--It's Got to Be Funky, Pencil Packin' Papa, and The Hardbop Grandpop--in spite of serious health problems that put him out of action for a period in 1993 and 1994.

In 1996 Silver became the Down Beat Hall of Fame's 86th member, joining Getz, Blakey, and a host of others whose music he had enhanced over the years with his own magic. As he approached the age of 70, Silver insisted that he still had musical goals. Above all, he expressed a hope to continue spreading jazz, which he sees as a unique and spiritually uplifting art form, to new audiences. To Silver, the music itself is the healing force that keeps him going.

by Robert R. Jacobson

Horace Silver's Career

Toured with Stan Getz, 1950-52; Blue Note recording artist, 1953- 1980; led quartet at Minton's in Harlem, 1954; co-founded Jazz Messengers with drummer Art Blakey, 1954; leader, Horace Silver Quintet, 1955--; recorded hit "Song for My Father," 1964; founded Silveto record label, 1980; Impulse! recording artist, 1996--.

Horace Silver's Awards

Down Beat "New Star," 1954; Budweiser Musical Excellence Award, 1958; Citizen Call Entertainment Award, 1960; Down Beat Hall of Fame, 1996.

Famous Works

Further Reading


Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 15 years ago

Just returned from Monday night Jazz at Fickled Piche in Muncie, Indiana. I request Song For My Father. I wanted more information about Horace Silver. What a glorious piece. It was interesting to find that it was first recorded 44 years ago.