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Horace Silver

Musician and composer.

Born: September 2, 1928; Died: June 18, 2014.

Horace Silver, who has died aged 85, was a jazz musician whose name may not have been readily familiar to the wider music audience but whose music found its way prominently into popular culture.

Steely Dan borrowed the bass line from Silver's Song for My Father for Rikki Don't Lose That Number, a radio hit in the 1970s that is still played frequently today. A definite Silver influence anchored Earth Wind and Fire's Clover, which also borrowed the same bass notes, and Style Council's Me Ship Came In, and the song's horn line could be heard in Stevie Wonder's Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing.

It was a mark also of Silver's accessible compositional style that so many of his tunes, dozens of which fed into the standard jazz group repertoire as instrumentals, were actually songs, with the words as well as the music written by Silver himself.

He was born in Norwalk, Connecticut, to a Portuguese-born father with roots in the Cape Verdean islands and a mother of Irish-African descent. As a boy at home he would hear his father, whose surname was Silva, and his friends playing Cape Verdean folk tunes and he learned to speak Portuguese, which later came in useful when he visited Brazil and became fascinated with bossa nova.

His first instrument was saxophone but hearing boogie-woogie turned him onto piano and the great individualists Thelonious Monk and Bud Powell became favourites. By 1950 he was playing piano in jazz clubs around Hartford when saxophone star Stan Getz passed through. Getz was so impressed by the trio that Silver put together for the occasion to accompany him that he hired them. Silver had been planning on moving to New York anyway. Getz just made it happen sooner and within a year he had made his first recording with Getz.

Gigs with Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Oscar Pettiford followed and in 1952 Silver recorded some tracks with saxophonist Lou Donaldson that marked the beginning of a long association with the great jazz label, Blue Note. Among his first recordings as a leader for Blue Note was Horace Silver and the Jazz Messengers, featuring the band he co-formed with drummer Art Blakey that would go on to define the hard bop style of the 1950s.

Although he only stayed with the Messengers for three years (Blakey continued to lead them until his death in 1990), Silver's blend of a strong pulse with gospel and blues-influenced melodies remained crucial to the band's identity, as it did to his own. With his taut, concise improvising style, he brought the term funky into acceptable usage and although Blue Note boss Alfred Lion considered Silver's The Preacher corny, Silver prevailed and scored a jazz hit, one of many that gave him longevity as a bandleader and talent scout.

Trumpeters Donald Byrd, Woody Shaw and Dave Douglas, saxophonists Joe Henderson and Benny Golson and the Brecker Brothers, Randy and Michael, who all went on to make significant contributions to jazz, were among those who served in Silver's bands.

When Blue Note became subsumed in a record business deal in the 1970s, Silver started his own label, Silveto, indulging his interest in metaphysics and spiritual matters, and his recordings dropped off the radar slightly through lack of promotion. He remained a strong live draw, however, and by the mid-1990s he was recording with Columbia and making albums that summed up his musical stance - It's Got to Be Funky - and his own position in the jazz world - Hard Bop Grandpop - while continuing to add to his legacy as one of jazz's most influential figures. He is survived by his son Gregory.

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