A Moment in Time: Miles Davis and Horace Silver, 1954

July 5th, 2014

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From his autobiography, Miles Davis recalls his experience meeting and playing with the recently deceased pianist Horace Silver in 1954, a point in time following Miles kicking heroin.  Silver played on Rudy Van Gelder-engineered recording sessions with Miles at the time of this Alfred Lion photograph that were released on Miles Davis Volume 3 for Blue Note, and Miles Davis Quartet for Prestige.

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The scene in New York had changed since I’d been gone. The MJQ — Modern Jazz Quartet — was big on the music scene then; the kind of “cool” chamber jazz thing they were doing was getting over big. People were still talking about Chet Baker and Lennie Tristano and George Shearing, all that stuff that came out of Birth of the Cool. Dizzy was still playing great as ever, but Bird was all fucked up — fat, tired, playing badly when he bothered to show up for anything. The managers of Birdland even barred him from there after he got into a shouting match with one of the owners — and Birdland had been named for him.

All I could think of when I came back to New York was playing music and making records and making up for all the time I had lost. The first two albums I made that year — Miles Davis, Vol. 2 for Blue Note and Miles Davis Quartet for Prestige — were very important to me. The Prestige contract had not gone into effect yet, that’s why I could make the Blue Note date with Alfred Lion, which I needed to do because my money was still short. I felt I had come on strong on those records. I got Art Blakey on drums, Percy Heath from the MJQ on bass, and a young piano player named Horace Silver, who had been playing with Lester Young and Stan Getz. I think Art Blakey turned me on to Horace, because he knew him real well. Horace was staying at the same hotel I was staying in – the Arlington Hotel on 25th near Fifth – so we got to know each other well. Horace had an upright piano in his room where I would play and compose songs. He was a little younger than me, three or four years younger I think. I used to tell him a few things and show him some shit on the piano. I liked the way Horace played piano, because he had this funky shit that I liked a lot at that time. He put fire up under my playing and with Art on drums you couldn’t be fucking around; you had to get on up and play. But I had Horace playing like Monk on that first album with “Well, You Needn’t” and a ballad accompaniment on “It Never Entered My Mind.” We also did “Lazy Susan.”

Excerpted from Miles:  The Autobiography, by Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe

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“It Never Entered My Mind”

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5 comments on “A Moment in Time: Miles Davis and Horace Silver, 1954”

  1. And soon after this (?) came the great “Walkin”” session, with Horace collaborating so well in the Miles Davis evolution.

    One of the many reasons I want to buy and re-read Horace Silver’s wonderful memoirs
    (“Let’s Get to the Nitty Gritty’) is to read Horace’s memories of that period.

    God Bless Horace Silver for all he gave the world so generously !

  2. I have this information from Davis’s Autobiography (Quincy Troupe). What a wonderful
    man this Silver was ! Regretfully, he suffered from Alz. in his later life. R.I.P.

    Girish Trivedi

    1. Amen.

      I have gradually tried to acquire as much of Horace’s vast works,
      (I think I have most (!), as my limited resources have allowed.
      And in the 90s (?), Horace released “The Hard Bop GrandPop”
      and “Prescription for the Blues” CDs. He was still at the very top of
      his game, lifting bands magically to his level.

      Horace Silver proved that the Truth is worth repeating in different ways,
      and it can always come out “original.”

      May I repeat a thought I had when I heard of his passing, via the Rifftides
      site. I just feel like saying it again:

      A genius of the highest order, a genius of simplicity, honesty,
      and clarity. Such diverse works, arrangements, and interpretations,
      and always with his personal Silver stamp, immediately recognizable
      by all. Horace Silver had an infinite fund of beautiful musical thoughts,
      each so simple that it’s amazing no one else could have thought of them.

      So many greats did their best work using his material, and so many
      honed their skills in his bands.

      When you hear one of his tunes, you can’t get it out of your mind.

      And that’s a good thing.

      Thank you, Horace Silver.

        1. What a great tribute to Horace Silver from JJM ( !), and what a great clip of HS Quintet, which I am listening to as I type this,

          The way Horace accompanies the other soloists is ALWAYS IN THERE with them, and such a demonstration of his infectious, generous spirit. Here’s a quote from Horace I saw on pages 123-124 of Len Lyons’ THE GREAT JAZZ PIANISTS:

          “I think a piano player has to like to comp to do it well. If you’re preoccupied with soloing ,if you’re sitting up there halfway feeding the horns, waiting for your turn to solo, you won’t be a good comper…I love the feeling I get when the rhythm section is really getting it together …we’ve got the horns in the palms of our hands…We’ve got to raise our hands and uplift
          them to the sky. See, the music’s got to float…”

          ..and he goes on to say that you have to love to solo or you should just play with a trio.The nice thing is, Horace Silver Trio numbers are an unappreciated highlight of his career.The Horace Silver Blue Note sessions with Gene Ramey and Art Blakey in 1952 and 53
          are so deep..And every HS Quintet album I can think of has one Trio number, usually a profound ballad original. So thoughtful. Deep as the ocean.

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