Horace Silver, pioneering jazz pianist, dies at 85

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Horace Silver, a pianist, composer and band leader with a tireless inventiveness who influenced generations of jazzmen with his distinctive hard bop sound, has died. He was 85.

The Westchester County medical examiner's office confirmed Silver died Wednesday in New Rochelle, but had no other information.

"Horace Silver was one of the hardest swinging piano players in jazz, both as a section player and a soloist," said Ramsey Lewis, a pianist influenced by Silver. "Moreover, he was one of the finest human beings that walked the earth." And influential, carving a sizable wake through the jazz world in a career that seemed special from the start.

The pianist was something of a prodigy and moved to New York at the insistence of Stan Getz in the early 1950s after the famed saxophone player hired a rhythm section that included Silver for a one-off in Hartford, Connecticut. Silver was just 21.

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He played with Getz for a while -- Getz would record some of his early compositions -- and other towering pioneers like Lester Young and Coleman Hawkins. He soon began a series of collaborations and recordings that remain highly influential in jazz a half-century later -- starting with his partnership with drummer Art Blakey that led to the seminal hard bop album "Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers" in 1955.

Though he eventually left the Messengers, Silver continued a string of milestone albums for Blue Note, a label he recorded for until 1980, which are still referenced often, including "Six Pieces of Silver" in 1956 and "Blowin' The Blues Away" in 1959.

Silver was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1995 for his album "Hard Bop Grandpop" and in 2005 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences gave him its president's merit award.

His most widely heard composition was not one he recorded himself. The rock group Steely Dan borrowed a riff from "Song for My Father" for their 1974 hit "Rikki, Don't Lose That Number," a song that remains in heavy rotation on classic rock and oldies stations.

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