Horace Silver has two huge claims to fame in the jazz pantheon. He cemented the components of hard bop – once known as the “funky” style – into the jazz mainstream and gave it a repertoire in the form of several durable songs. Both sides of this legacy were on display in Disney Hall Wednesday night as the Los Angeles Philharmonic’s Creative Chair for Jazz, Christian McBride, anchored a series of quintets staffed by a Who’s Who of hard bop veterans. And thankfully, Silver, 78, now wheelchair-bound, was there to take it in.
Amazingly, given its increasing tendency to look back, the jazz world has been slow to recognize Silver’s contributions as a songwriter. It wasn’t until 1997 that a record label, Fantasy, ventured to put together a “songbook” anthology, “Opus de Funk: The Jazz Giants Play Horace Silver,” part of a series in which Silver was the only living composer. (Further irony: Silver has outlived all of the “jazz giants” featured on the album).
For this concert, everything was built around a core piano trio with fellow veteran Cedar Walton in the piano chair, McBride playing irresistibly funky double bass (for my money, he had the best solo of the night in “Filthy McNasty”), and onetime Silver sideman Roger Humphries on drums. On top of that base, the trumpet/tenor sax teams of Tom Harrell and Joe Lovano, Charles Tolliver and Bennie Maupin, and Randy Brecker and George Coleman formed the classic hard-bop front lines. Andy Bey and Dee Dee Bridgewater supplied occasional vocals; he in a quivering, dark baritone, she in a sassy, often scatting manner.
Most of Silver’s greatest hits from the 1950s and `60s were touched upon – “McNasty”, “Sister Sadie,” “Senor Blues,” “Doodlin'”, “Nica’s Dream”, and of course, “Song For My Father,” the latter as performed by everyone in the cast as a grand finale. The cast also reached deeper into the soulful late `60s and 1970 with the fatback funk of “Psychedelic Sally,” the tense drone of “That Healin’ Feelin,’ ” and the funky rhumba blues of “The Jody Grind,” while generally sidestepping the vast output that came afterward.
Well before the evening was over, one began to perceive a distinct Silver musical profile – an identity solidly rooted in the blues, yet quirky in the way the rhythms rocked and shifted (sometimes to a few performers’ discomfort), more heavily indebted to a Latin influence than one is led to expect. There is one other crucial component – a bubbling sense of life-giving joy similar to that which one gets from the Duke Ellington songbook. When you hear a Horace tune, you can’t help but smile and tap your foot – and these bands gave us plenty of opportunities to do so.