REPOST NPR: Legendary Pianist Horace Silver Dies At 85

Legendary Pianist Horace Silver Dies At 85

June 18, 2014 5:17 PM ET
Horace Silver performs for television in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1979.

Horace Silver performs for television in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1979.

JazzSign/Lebrecht Music & Arts/Corbis

Pianist Horace Silver, whose potent and catchy combination of blues, funk and Latin sounds shifted the jazz landscape in the 1950s and ’60s, died Wednesday morning at his home in New Rochelle, N.Y. He died of natural causes, according to his son, Gregory Silver. He was 85. As a bandleader, Horace Silver mentored some of the hottest musicians of his era. As a composer, he devised numerous jazz standards still played today. Silver grew up in Norwalk, Conn. He was 11 when he and and his father stumbled upon a swing band one warm Sunday night. It was the orchestra led by Jimmie Lunceford“And I saw all these black guys getting out of the bus with their instruments, and I said, ‘Dad, can we stay and just hear them play one number? Just one number,’ “ he told NPR in 1996. ” ‘No, you gotta go to school in the morning, gotta get up early.’ … I begged and pleaded, begged and pleaded, so he’s, ‘OK, one number.’ ” His dad let him stay for three tunes. Silver credits that one event for a lifetime chasing jazz as a pianist and bandleader. By his early 20s, he was a good enough pianist to be hired by saxophonist Stan Getz. That was 1950. He moved to the jazz hub of New York City the next year. Soon after, Silver co-founded the Jazz Messengers with drummer Art Blakey. It was a hothouse for young talent and future stars. Some later joined Silver’s bands — musicians like saxophonist Hank Mobley and trumpeter Blue Mitchell. Silver signed to Blue Note Records, and the label gave him free rein as a house pianist and arranger for nearly three decades. He created a sound that provided the blueprint for countless jazz quintets in the 1950s and ’60s: bluesy, soulful, funky.

I got the impression that sometimes some of the bebop players thought it beyond them to play funky, you know?” he said. “Just kind of take your shoes off and get down into the real nitty-gritty of the music and get guttural, sort of. Get basic, you know?”

The title of Silver’s memoir, Let’s Get to the Nitty Gritty, says it all. His style was jazz’s next big thing: It was called hard bop. Dan Morgenstern, director emeritus of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, says Silver had great melodies, sophisticated harmonies and rhythms you could dance to. “They were very catchy,” Morgenstern says. “There’s themes of Horace’s that stay in your ear. He just had a knack for that.” Horace Silver’s music was just as affecting in person. Morgenstern says he recalls hearing the pianist at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. “His hair would be flying,” Morgenstern says. “You know, his head was bobbing side to side and up and down, and he would be wringing wet when he came off that stage.” Drummer Roger Humphries drove Silver’s music into the mid-1960s. Humphries says he saw Silver not just as an inspiring pianist, but also as a mentor — “like a wonderful big brother.” “He treated me very well,” Humphries says. “He made me want to be in his band. He made me want to play for him.” Humphries backed Silver on the pianist’s most famous work. It’s the tune almost everyone knows: “Song for My Father” was written for the man who nurtured Silver’s career in the first place. “My dad said to me one time when I was a little boy, he said, ‘You know, I’m not a rich man, I’m a factory worker. But if you want to go to college, I’ll try my best to try to put you through college,’ ” Silver said. “I said, ‘No, I don’t want to go to college — I want to become a famous jazz musician. But whether I become a famous jazz musician or not, I just want to play music. If I play in just a local bar all my life — I just want to play music. That’s all I want to do.’ “

Horace Silver did become a famous jazz musician. And he got to play music for more than 60 years.

REPOST: Cause For Celebration: The Iconic Blue Note Records At 75 by NPR STAFF May 28, 2014

 

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Blue Note Records is the kind of record label that people like to call “storied” — so celebrated and impactful that no one narrative can capture its essence. From swing to bebop and hard bop, through fusion and the avant-garde, Blue Note has been telling the story of jazz in the grooves of its records since 1939 — and for its 75th anniversary, it’s releasing remastered vinyl editions of some gems from its catalog. But the real legacy of the label is too big to capture on disc.

Even on a stage as big as the Kennedy Center’s in Washington, D.C., where dozens of the label’s stars gathered for a special Blue Note at 75 concert earlier this month, the label’s history felt sprawlingly diverse: Elder titans like Lou Donaldson shared the moment with pop contemporaries like Norah Jones. You can see videos of four of those performances here, or zoom in on the label’s discography with a look at 75 great Blue Note solos here.

NPR’s Melissa Block went looking for the big picture as well, gathering stories and insights from the label’s current president, Don Was, and many musicians from throughout its history. Read quotes from pianist Jason Moran, organ master Dr. Lonnie Smith and others below, and hear the radio segment at the audio link.

“I can’t remember the first Blue Note album I bought, but I do know my very first favorite Blue Note record — and that would be Speak No Evil, Wayne Shorter. It’s almost like a really amazing underground hip-hop record that didn’t go mainstream for some reason; that’s how it sounds. It just has a certain mood, a certain darkness and a certain honesty.”

— Pianist Robert Glasper, who released his Blue Note debut, Canvas, in 2005

“You won’t see this on the Grammys, and that’s a shame. I always say that if the aliens came to Earth and they watched one of these award shows, would that be the best America has to offer? I sometimes am unsure of that. And I want to make sure that the best of what Blue Note Records has to offer, at least a small portion of it, is on this stage, presented in the most earnest and honest way possible.”

— Pianist Jason Moran (on Blue Note since 1999) on the importance of the Blue Note at 75 concert

“Blue Note captured you because of the liner notes and the cover art. There was an energy there; there was a hipness that you followed. The music followed the production, and the production followed the music. And you could just feel the love in each disc.”

— Saxophonist Joe Lovano. His Blue Note debut, From the Soul, came out in 1991

“Blue Note was the first to take the chance and the risk to record him as a leader — and not only did they record him as a leader, they called the recording Genius of Modern Music. That’s bold.”

— Library of Congress jazz historian Larry Appelbaum on Thelonious Monk’s Blue Note debut

“In this kind of music, change is part of the DNA. You’re supposed to play the music differently every night. You’re not supposed to repeat yourself; you’re always supposed to be pushing the threshold. So we’ve gotta continue to do that. I’ve never said no to something because it’s the wrong genre. I’ve said no to stuff — a lot of stuff — because I didn’t feel anything when I heard it.”

— Blue Note President Don Was

“Blue Note has a history. It’s a legacy. If they didn’t keep it up that would be a tragedy, because it’s just like the Empire State Building or the White House. It’s a monument. It’s part of life.”

— Organist Dr. Lonnie Smith, whose playing on Lou Donaldson’s Alligator Bogaloo won him aBlue Note contract in 1967