Pianist Horace Silver was born in Connecticut in 1928. His father was from Cape Verde off the west coast of Africa, and as such the young Silver grew up speaking Portuguese fluently- a fact he kept quiet from his colleagues for the first two decades of his career.
After moving to New York in 1951 he worked at the famous jazz club Birdland on Broadway, played piano for such luminaries as Miles Davis and Coleman Hawkins, and formed the soon-to-be-successful Jazz Messengers with drummer Art Blakey.
In 1956 after several years with the Messengers, Silver released his first recording under his own band name, ‘Six Pieces of Silver’. Issued by Blue Note, ‘Six Pieces’ features four-fifths of that era’s Jazz Messengers line-up – 19 year old Louis Hayes replaces Art Blakey on drums (if Louis Hayes sounds familiar, this may jog your memory), while trumpeter Donald Byrd teams up with tenor man Hank Mobley and bass player Doug Watkins on a solid offering of straight-up hard bop.
The familiarity these musicians share on this recording is evident from the opening bars of the first track, ‘Cool Eyes’. The group combines touches of earlier bebop and ‘big band’ to great effect, and the neat interplay between Silver and Doug Watkins during the bass solo is a joy.
Track two, ‘Shirl’, gives Silver a chance to show his hand on a melancholy piano ballad. Despite the lack of horns the playing wouldn’t have felt out of place on Donald Byrd’s ‘Off to the Races’, recorded the previous year.
The stand-out track on ‘Six Pieces’, however, is ‘Senor Blues’. The insistent left hand groove of Silver drives the song, matched throughout by Hayes’ 6/8 ride cymbal. Byrd and Mobley combine wonderfully too, liberally drizzling their Spanish tinge to set the smoky, sexy scene. You can watch a sizzling live rendition of this track here. The CD release also features a reworking of ‘Senor Blues’ featuring Chi-town’s fabulous Bill Henderson on vocals, who instantly transports the listener way down to Mexicali.
In short ‘Six Pieces of Silver’ features a star-studded line-up and enough soul and good times to appeal broadly. If you’re just getting to know hard bop and you’re ready to hear a classic from the genre, this is a great place to start the journey.