The 1960 album Horace-Scope, by The Horace Silver Quintet and released on the Blue Note label, would be my next to final choice in my ongoing game of Desert Island Discs. This is an album I first heard on a cassette tape made for me by a friend who had the record. (I hope the statute of limitations on that bootlegging has run out!). I have since bought it over the years on compact disc and digital download. In the future, I guess I will just think of music I want to hear and my credit card will automatically be charged by some company paying as small a royalty to the actual artist as they can get away with. I’ll probably have to buy the Beatles White Album again too.
Horace Silver on piano is the leader on this album, and all but one of the tunes are his original compositions. Silver was a pioneer in that sub-category of Jazz that is often labeled “hard-bop”, although I can think of few things in this world more easygoing than Horace Silver’s writing. He is often said to have incorporated influences from gospel music, Latin-American and African music, soul music and tied them all together with a consistently bluesy sound. (That is just the kind of sentence I despise, because it tells you less than nothing about what to expect when you hear the music.) In this case, a tune is worth a thousand words, so here is the opening tune from the album.
Strollin, Horace Silver Quintet
The other musicians on the recording are Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Junior Cook on tenor saxophone, Gene Taylor on bass, and Detroit’s own Roy Brooks on drums. It’s a little difficult for me to judge how well known these names are to the world at large, because they are so familiar to me. Blue Mitchell, for example, is one of my favorite trumpeters. Having appeared on over 25 of his own albums as a leader, and another 50 or 60 as a sideman, I can spot his playing from miles away. I don’t think, however, that he is the same household name outside my household. Junior Cook likewise, is a great tenor saxophonist that more people should look up and enjoy.
Everyone in the jazz scene in Detroit is very familiar with the name Roy Brooks. He was a fantastic bop drummer, as can be heard on Horace-Scope and countless other albums. In the 1970’s he founded a group of his own called The Artistic Truth. His career was undoubtedly hurt at times by his erratic behavior and struggles with mental health issues. Sometimes he sought treatment, and sometimes he did not. I saw Brooks perform at the annual Jazz Festival in Detroit with an all percussion group he called the Aboriginal Percussion Choir. The percussion group rehearsed in his basement in Detroit, and anything you could hit and make a sound was fair game to be a percussion instrument. The performance was a wonderful, polyrhythmic jumble of grooves, with one of the most memorable features being Brooks playing a musical saw.
Many of the tunes on Horace-Scope have gone on to become jazz standards, as have many of Silver’s compositions from other albums. The closing tune on the album is another fine example of this.
Nica’s Dream, Horace Silver Quintet
Well, there you have it. The beginning and the end of one of my favorite jazz albums. It’s up to you to go out and find the middle, which I assure you is just as satisfying. Sadly, Horace Silver passed away in June 2014 at the age of 85. In the liner notes to a different album, Horace once said:
“Musical composition should bring happiness and joy to people and make them forget their troubles.”
I think the music of Horace Silver has accomplished that a million times over.
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