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Horace Silver, jazz innovator, dies at 85

Horace Silver, shown in an undated photo, was a pioneer of "hard bop" -- an offshoot of bebop.

Story highlights

  • Horace Silver was famed jazz pianist
  • Silver co-founded Jazz Messengers, helped create "hard bop"
  • Composition "Song for My Father" has keyboard phrase later used in Steely Dan hit

Horace Silver, the innovative and prolific jazz pianist best known for such pieces as "Song for My Father" and "The Preacher," has died. He was 85.

Silver died Wednesday in New Rochelle, New York, according to a statement from his longtime label, Blue Note Records.

"A pioneer of hard bop and original founder of The Jazz Messengers, Horace tempered bebop with elements of gospel, blues and R&B to create a soulful modern jazz concept that came to identify the 'Blue Note Sound,' " said the legendary jazz label.

The pianist was known for his light touch and ability to combine a variety of styles in his nimble playing. Though known for "hard bop" -- an offshoot of bebop -- he seldom let boundaries contain his playing.

"His funky, unique and infectious piano-playing style set a standard for many pianists to follow, further cementing his well-deserved legacy," the Recording Academy said in a statement.

Mainstream audiences might be most familiar with Silver's "Song for My Father," a mid-'60s composition that starts with a keyboard phrase later borrowed by Steely Dan for "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." But unlike the brooding "Rikki," which came out a decade later, Silver's composition is upbeat and joyful, with sprightly horns and rhythms evoking the island birthplace of Silver's father, the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde.

    Silver dedicated the piece to his dad and put him on the cover of the "Song for My Father" LP (1965).

    Silver was born in 1928 in Norwalk, Connecticut. He got his big break when the popular saxophonist Stan Getz heard him one night and asked him to join him in New York.

    "I had maybe $700 in the bank and I had spent all that money on doctor bills," he said in an interview with the magazine All About Jazz. "But the good Lord was looking after me and Stan Getz came through Hartford and heard me and my trio and hired us. That was a blessing."

    He formed the Jazz Messengers with drummer Art Blakey in 1953, then left to form his own group two years later. That band, the Horace Silver Quintet, played on some of Silver's most famous recordings.

    Silver is survived by a son, Gregory.

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