Horace Silver: Liberated Brother

3 Jul

Horace Silver, a pianist who watched Art Tatum play and whose music was played in tribute generations later, died last month at age 85.

I once saw Silver many years ago, in a tiny club on the beach near Los Angeles. I had little more idea of how to find the club than I did of who Silver was. I knew Silver only in the vague way you know of an author and a book title you haven’t read but should — say Larry McMurtry and Lonesome Dove.

I didn’t know Senor Blues or Song For My Father, or that Silver had once been a Jazz Messenger, or that he had once been a saxophonist, or that his father was from the Cape Verde Islands off the coast of Africa and that the island’s influence was in Silver’s music, or that Silver had seen Tatum as a youngster and said it was “like watching and listening to a miracle in progress.” I only knew it was a bit of a miracle to see Silver smile and play in such a small club.

At the intermission I wound up in the men’s room next to a member of the band. I asked him why Silver was playing here and why now. Silver had a home locally, he said (Redondo Beach?), and sometimes wanted to get out and play. Those of us in the audience were the ones who should have been smiling even more.

I can’t remember too much more of the specifics of that evening, but every so often over the last 30 years, I would hear something Silver played that night. And smile again.

“Horace Silver’s music has always represented what jazz musicians preach but don’t necessarily practice, and that’s simplicity,” the bassist Christian McBride said, according to npr. “It sticks to the memory; it’s very singable. It gets in your blood easily; you can comprehend it easily. It’s very rooted, very soulful.”

There’s a reason for that, of course, which Silver explained when he was asked about his music and his influences in a 2003 interview with All About Jazz.

“It’s like making a stew,” Silver said. “You put all these various ingredients in it. You season it with this. You put that in it. You put the other in it. You mix it all up and it comes out something neat, something that you created.”

Above is a cut of Weldon Irvine’s song Liberated Brother off the album In Pursuit of the 27th Man. Said Scott Yanow at allmusic.com in his review of the album: “. . . no matter what the instrumentation, the style is pure Silver, hard-driving and melodic hard bop with a strong dose of funky soul.”

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2 Responses to “Horace Silver: Liberated Brother”

  1. LondonJazzCollector July 4, 2014 at 2:59 pm #

    Good to see Horace back on the map. These uppity avant garde, post bop, and modal jazz peeps have been getting too much airtime of late – it’s back to basics – does it swing? With Horace, it does.

    • David Markowitz July 4, 2014 at 3:10 pm #

      Amen LJC. Thanks for all the posts you’ve done on Horace. I like what you said on one of the first ones, and I’m paraphrasing, about making the piano smile. There were a lot of smiles when he played.

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