Saturday, 3 September 2011

Horace Silver Lives!

Horace Silver is not dead. I know, you never said he was, but cop this: I thought he was dead. I assumed he had died, and not being able to recall the year he died meant nothing because I don’t retain those kinds of dates.
   Almost all the Jazz Greats are dead, of course. Some say jazz itself is dead, but I like to evoke Frank Zappa’s statement that it’s not, it ‘just smells funny’. Whether or not it reeks of decay depends on the individual, naturally. When does a genre die? Can we safely say that Trip-Hop is dead? I think so. Heavy Metal? Probably not in the ears of many. Punk’s not dead as proclaimed by the studs arranged on the back of jackets worn by those sporting big orange Mohicans whilst being snapped by tourists at Camden Market. That was a few years ago mind you, so perhaps by now it is, dead I mean.
   All genres ‘live’ in the minds of somebody. Yes, out there in the wide world a listener is probably enjoying ‘Tales From Topographic Oceans’ as I type. Retromania is rife, as Simon Reynolds recently pointed out in his book of the same name.
   ‘Bird Lives!’ supposedly appeared on walls (or perhaps one wall, or perhaps the tale is apocryphal) soon after the death of Charlie Parker in 1955. Either way, it made a great title for Ross Russell’s biography. Parker had a New York club named after him whilst he was still alive. Birdland opened in 1949, and five years later Horace played there as a member of Art Blakey’s band. What to do when Be-Bop had died? That was the question. Not that Art and co were walking around asking themselves that, I’m sure. I doubt they held meetings to discuss the issue, with points raised by Clifford Brown duly noted whilst Rudy Van Gelder recorded everything. Rudy would go on to record the path taken out of Be-Bop, and Horace was a key player. Professors of music may be able to define the precise technical changes from Be-Bop to Hard-Bop, but it’s beyond me. I suspect it’s not a clear cut thing, as is the case with musical evolution.
   Horace developed a style that was ‘funky’, although not in the sense that we recognise Funky today. Not ‘funky’ as in smelly either, although some may suggest that the rootsy, earthy, bluesy elements are linked to the smells of home-cooking and, yes, even bodily odours associated with sweat, sex and the street.
   Horace brought in a bluesy swagger, a ‘down-home’ feeling, but not at the expensive of craft and composition. His wrote catchy tunes, but there was plenty of room for rising stars such as Hank Mobley, and later, Joe Henderson to express themselves. ‘Filthy McNasty’, ‘Song For My Father’, ‘Sister Sadie’ and ‘Senor Blues’ are just a few of his best-known tunes, but on the albums made during his golden era there are many which lodge into your brain as joyous earworms once heard. Back in the 80s when I was getting into Jazz I’d spend afternoons listening to Horace and, as a result, carried those tunes around in my head for most of the decade.
   I was going to say that if you haven’t heard of Horace Silver you must have had your head buried in the sand for the last thirty years, but that would be a ridiculous accusation. He may not have reached as many people as Miles Davis, or be regarded as highly artistically, but Horace has created a Silver (hah-ha) lining to many a cloud in my life; a real pick-me-up. So a belated happy birthday Horace (he was born on Sept 2nd, 1928). And yes, he is still alive, in more ways than one.

Possibly my favourite Horace Silver tune:

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