Horace Silver’s Groundbreaking Album “6 Pieces of Silver”

Tuesday on All Night Jazz, we remember pianist Horace Silver’s “6 Pieces of Silver,” which was recorded on this day in jazz history. WUSF’s Carson Rodriguez Bugarin has more:

The album was recorded on November 10, 1956, at the Rudy Van Gelder Studio in New Jersey and features most of the 1955 class of the Jazz Messengers including trumpeter Donald Byrd, saxophonist Hank Mobley, bassist Doug Watkins, and newcomer, Louis Hayes on drums.

Raised by his father who was from the Cape Verde Islands, Silver grew up surrounded by gospel and island folk music.

This helped to shape his musical style. Learning to play on a salvaged piano gifted to him by his uncle, as well as on the saxophone, Silver grew enamored with jazz, specifically the increasingly popular blues, and bop sub-genres.

In 1950, at the age of 21, Silver was recruited by saxophonist Stan Getz to play piano for a concert in Hartford Connecticut. Impressed by Silver’s talent, Getz offered for the young musician to join him permanently.

Quickly establishing himself as a composer and blues artist, in 1953 Silver recruited drummer Art Blakey, saxophonist Hank Mobley, trumpeter Kenny Dorham, and bassist Doug Watkins to form the Horace Silver Quintet.

This group later evolved into The Jazz Messengers, with whom Silver recorded, “Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers,” that featured the first of Silver’s greatest hits, “The Preacher.”

Three years later, Silver split off from the Jazz Messengers to create a quintet including his Messenger bandmates, Byrd, Mobley, and Watkins.

The quintet’s recording of, “6 Pieces of Silver,” the group proved that they had a sound entirely independent of the Messengers, now led by Blakey. Silver’s group featured a blend of hard bop, blues, and gospel-infused soul-jazz tracks.

While the album takes on a lighthearted tone, as does much of his music, Silver took his music very seriously, focusing on the creation of simple, catchy, and clean melodies.

Silver later recorded several reissues of the album, with new takes on several songs including the introduction of lyrics.

According to jazz historian, Scott Yanow, Silver’s composition, “Señor Blues,” “officially put Silver on the map,” and quickly became a jazz standard, due to its use of simplicity and focus on melody over complex harmony.

In the book “The Great Jazz Pianists: Speaking of Their Lives and Music,” by pianist and critic Len Lyons, Silver explained his philosophy.

“I’ve found in composing that being simple and profound—having in-depthness in your music—is the most difficult thing to do. Anybody can write a whole lot of notes, which may or may not say something . . . But why make it complicated for the musicians to play? Why make it difficult for the listeners to hear.”


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