RIP: Legendary Jazz Pianist Horace Silver

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Editor’s Note: Rhythm Planet’s Tom Schnabel shares his thoughts on the artist as well.

You look around the music landscape these days and, sad to say, there doesn’t seem to be as many iconic musicians around anymore.

And today we are down one more, as we learned of the passing of a true icon, jazz pianist Horace Silver. 

Basically serving as the definition of the term “hard bop,” he dominated the last half of the 20th century jazz scene.

Recording for 25 years on the equally-iconic record label Blue Note, both as a leader and as one of the founders of the Jazz Messengers alongside drummer Art Blakey, Silver collaborated with nearly every important player throughout the 50s, including Sonny Rollins, Milt Jackson, Coleman Hawkins, Stan Getz and, with an extended run, Miles Davis.

In the 60s his own group, which featured tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, recorded a pair of important albums: 1965’s “Song for My Father” and its follow-up, “The Cape Verdean Blues”. 

These two records featured the influence of his father’s Cape Verdean heritage, and the title tracks to both albums have become beloved standards.  (A riff from “Song for My Father” even made an appearance on jazz fans Steely Dan’s “Rikki, Don’t Lose That Number”).

From the late 60s onwards Silver experimented with his sound (helping to develop the funk and soul jazz genres in the process), and he also incorporated elements of his spirituality in his music.

He continued to record into the 90s (including a 1996 album called “The Hardbop Grandpop“) and in 2005 Silver was given the President’s Merit Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

It is ironic that his passing should occur the week after Father’s Day, as both his version and Leon Thomas’ rendition could be heard on the KCRW airwaves over the weekend in honor of the holiday, as they are sure to for decades to come.