Nutmegging This Up

Hunting vintage jazz vinyl records in the Nutmeg State

Horace Silver (1928-2014)

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It is an ironic fact of life that we often celebrate the accomplishments of an individual most widely and deeply in the time immediately following their passing from this world. We have been lucky to have had Horace Silver living among us for so long into this millennium considering how many of his colleagues were not able to stick around even half as long as the pianist/composer did. Silver’s compositions are an iconic part of hard bop, which today remains the prominent style that most small combo jazz stems from. Some would say that Silver invented this style, though he had a partner of like mind in drummer Art Blakey, whose career follows virtually the same track with the exception that Blakey did not compose. After debuting on Blue Note with several 10-inches worth of material, Silver joined with Blakey to bring a soulful swing to several Jazz Messengers records before the pianist forged out on his own. This proved to be a wise move for Silver, who could focus his recordings around a tightly packed quintet sound.

Plenty of obituaries, retrospectives, and tributes will be written in the coming days, so I will use this as an opportunity mainly to highlight some of the Horace Silver records in my collection and therefore focus on the music itself. Even if I am not able to truly compose an obituary proper, it is fitting that I highlight Horace a Silver here on NMTU considering that he is a product of the Nutmeg State.

I’ve been seriously collecting older pressings of jazz records for two years, and my modest collection of Blue Notes “with ears” are bolstered by about a dozen Horace Silver LPs. Silver’s output was nearly as prolific as any of the busiest men on the label. He almost kept up with the pace set by Blakey and Lou Donaldson, two of Blue Note’s workhorses (of course, no one could touch the record machine that was Jimmy Smith). As such, his LPs are amongst the easiest in which to find affordable first or second pressings. Like the other artists mentioned, the lion’s share of their work was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and put out by jazz’s most famous record label.

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Sonny Rollins – “Misterioso”

Rollins (ts), J.J. Johnson (tb), Thelonious Monk and Horace Silver (pn), Paul Chambers (bs), Art Blakey (dr)


Most collectors would agree that one of the most obvious weaknesses in Van Gelder’s style of recording and mixing the ensembles he recorded was the sound of the piano. Upon hearing certain albums or certain players, the piano can often sound a little dull and somewhat boxed in. Yet it’s the most individualistic pianists like Silver and Thelonious Monk who seem to will the instrument into portraying the personality of the player behind it.  On “Misterioso” from Sonny Rollins Volume 2 (Blue Note BLP 1558) both can be heard taking solos indicative of their personal styles.  Both players are instantly recognizable and both play the hell out of the blues.

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Art Blakey Quintet – Split Kick


Art Blakey Quintet – Once in a While

Blakey (dr), Lou Donaldson (as), Clifford Brown (tp), Horace Silver (pn), Curly Russell (bs)

At the beginning of Silver’s tenure with Blue Note, which spanned his entire career, he was often found amongst the Jazz Messengers.  It was the band’s first live recordings at Birdland (there would be several) where, as a high school student getting acquainted with jazz, I found a lot of my passion for the label and for classic jazz in general.  The two volumes of BLP 1521 are the only existing document of the Clifford Brown-Lou Donaldson-Horace Silver combination of Art Blakey’s long running organization, and they burst out of the gate with  “Split Kick” before Brownie holds court on the beautiful “Once in a While.”  Silver’s playing is full behind the soloists and organized when soloing.  Again he makes an instrument that is most likely lacking in quality sound as if it is his direct voice, rollicking in the lower register and often avoiding the top octaves, perhaps like a seasoned bass-baritone sticking to the silky middle register of their wide range.

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Horace Silver Quintet – Moon Rays

Horace Silver Quintet – The Outlaw

Silver (pn), Art Farmer (tp), Clifford Jordan (ts), Teddy Kotick (bs), Louis Hayes (dr)

Silver’s attention turned to forming and maintaining his own quintets where he could focus on his own compositions.  Sticking mainly with a front line of trumpet and tenor, the compositions are sneaky in regards to their density.  You may not hear all the layers to a composition like “Moon Rays” (this recording from Further Explorations of the Horace Silver Quintet, BLP 1589).  Digging into my copy of the record days are Horace’s passing, I couldn’t help but notice Louis Hayes cutting the air with the hi hat, piling a polyrhythm onto the rest of the rhythm section’s ostinato.  It is too calculated to be something that Hayes is comping; instead it adds a calculated sense of tension to the floating lines of melody that you cannot ignore once it is brought to your attention.  Though Silver would later form a more enduring front line of Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook that best served the greasier direction his compositions would take a few years later, I am big fan of this one-off with Art Farmer and Clifford Jordan.

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Horace Silver Quintet – Sister Sadie

Silver (pn), Blue Mitchell (tp), Junior Cook (ts), Gene Taylor (bs), Louis Hayes (dr)

With this anomaly of a hand-drawn cover for Blue Note, Silver’s work veers slightly on to a new course with his next LP, Blowin’ The Blues Away (BLP 4017).  “Sister Sadie” is amongst his most famous compositions, and it eschews the thornier turns of his finest moments in hard bop (which he by no means abandoned in the 60s and beyond).  This is where the Mitchell-Cook horn line, with it’s brilliant top end, make a different impact on the more groove-based music that was to come.


Silver continued to record for Blue Note about two decades beyond Blowin’… producing some of the records he is probably most known for (Song For My Father of course, amongst others).  As solid and enjoyable as he is playing piano on record, his compositions have gone on to make a larger impact on jazz as a whole.

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Kenny Burrell – Nica’s Dream

Burrell (gtr), Brother Jack McDuff (or), Harold Vick (ts), Joe Dukes (dr), Ray Barretto (congas)

Silver’s groove based tunes built on less frequent chord changes pointed the way forward to the soul jazz movement that came about in the 60s.  One of my favorite organ-based versions of one of his tunes is this take on “Nica’s Dream” featuring a tag team of guitarist Kenny Burrell and organist Brother Jack McDuff.  The Hammond B3 always adds some grit, and it melds with the grease on the surface of the latin sections.


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Shirley Scott – The Preacher

Scott (or), Henry Grimes (bs), Otis Finch (dr)

Shirley Scott Plays Horace Silver (Prestige 7240) is a particularly distinct entry into the organist’s catalog, trading your typical burners for a set focused on the composer’s genius.  Henry Grimes plays bass, freeing up Scott to really dig in on Silver’s melodies and, especially evidenced by “The Preacher,” get to the heart of the composition.  Scott’s output is relatively prolific (Marc Myers cites that the organist put out seven LPs in 1961) and …Plays Horace Silver is a rare break in form.  It’s worth the effort if you haven’t hunted it down.

Vinyl details:

Sonny Rollins Vol. 2 – Ear, 47 West 63rd deep groove labels, no R/INC.

Art Blakey – A Night at Birdland Vol. 1 – Ear, New York USA deep groove labels, original stampers

Horace Silver – Further Explorations… – Ear, 47 West 63rd deep groove labels, R/INC.

Horace Silver – Blowin’ the Blues Away – Ear, 47 West 63rd deep groove labels, R/INC.

Kenny Burrell – Crash! – Prestige blue brident label mono, VAN GELDER

Shirley Scott – Plays Horace Silver – Prestige blue trident label stereo, VAN GELDER


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This entry was posted on June 19, 2014 by .
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