Horace Silver, the highly-regarded pianist who played against the tide for much of the ’50s and ’60s, has died, at the age of 85.
Silver established a reputation for playing simple but sophisticated hard bop piano during a time when the modal jazz of Miles and Coltrane was at its most popular. Eschewing the calm, cool jazz of Kind of Blue but preceding the jagged, controlled chaos of Ornette Coleman and latter-day Coltrane, Silver played lively, swinging jazz, inspired by soul and unphased by the looming presence of rock ‘n’ roll.
Silver joined Art Blakey’s iconic outfit The Jazz Messengers in 1954, performing on their self-titled album in 1956, before leaving to pursue a solo career. Silver played piano on Miles Davis’ amalgamated album Walkin, which conflated recordings from two different groups during two different sessions, though the album is credited to the Miles Davis All Stars.
Blakey, known for his forceful, aggressive style of skin-beating, followed in the lineage of Chick Webb and that big band mad man Gene Krupa. Blakey’s energetic drumming worked in tandem with Silver’s clean piano playing. Favoring articulate playing over complexity, Silver would use his right hand to wrap sophisticated solos around his left hand’s punchy bass lines.
Silver wasn’t much of a leading man early in his career. The Jazz Messengers were undeniably the Jazz Tiger’s group, though Blakey considered it a collective. It wasn’t until Silver joined Blue Note Records, where Silver was tight with the label boss Alfred Lion and was given far more freedom than the company’s other artists, that Silver made a name for himself. In 1963 Silver created a new quintet that featured Joe Henderson on tenor saxophone and Carmell Jones on trumpet, and which was responsible for his best-known album Song for My Father.