Horace Silver - Finger Poppin’

Pianist Horace Silver is one of the most influential pianists in jazz and the very personification and creator of what has been called soul jazz, composing what are now standards such as ‘Sister Sadie’ and ‘Señor Blues’ and piloting a distinctive direction the Blue Note records sound would take. Initially making an impact with Art Blakey, who “borrowed” the name of Silver’s group to form The Jazz Messengers, Silver went on produce a series of classic albums for Blue Note in the 1960s, including the timeless Song For My Father with the infectious bossa style of its much sampled title track and Silver’s own inimitable sense of the Cape Verdean blues. Keith Shadwick surveys the great man’s 1950s/60s heyday, as a previously unissued 50-year-old Silver live album is released for the first time. Horace Silver - Finger Poppin’
Mr Micawber was right: things do turn up. This month it’s a previously unissued taping of the Horace Silver Quintet live at the 1958 Newport Jazz Festival. Silver appeared as the concluding act on an afternoon of jazz that had seen the Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk trios warm the summer breezes. Monk made it into the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day: Rollins and Silver didn’t. But all the music was recorded. We’ll come back to that a little later, but it does give us a nice hook to hang a tipping of the hat to the great man 50 years after he played that set by looking through his long and exceptional career.

Now 79, Connecticut-born Silver served a high-class apprenticeship in the jazz world, starting abruptly at the age of 23 in 1950 when his accompanying trio for a local Stan Getz gig made such an impression on the saxophonist that he hired them full-time and subsequently recorded early Silver compositions, including in January 1951 ‘Split Kick’. The pianist stayed with Getz through to April 1952, when he was part of a Getz quintet featuring Charles Mingus and Connie Kay playing New York’s Birdland. When Getz moved on Silver stayed in town. By the summer of 1952 he was making contacts with other younger players such as Lou Donaldson, whom he’d met (along with Art Blakey) at a rehearsal studio on 116th Street: he appeared on a Lou Donaldson session for Blue Note in June that revealed a player who had learned from Bud Powell and Dodo Marmarosa but who was already evolving his own concise and powerful improvisatory patterns and rhythms.

Silver played at Birdland with Coleman Hawkins’ Quintet over the early autumn of 1952, backing the great man as he swapped his front line trumpet support between Howard McGhee and Roy Eldridge. At one point Art Blakey took the drum chair in the band and the following month, October, saw Silver front his first trio sessions with Blakey on drums, when he recorded brilliant versions of ‘Horoscope’ and ‘Ecaroh’.

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