When I was a teenager in Poland ages ago, those of us who loved modern jazz listened intensely to the new sounds of hard bop that were broadcast on Voice of America by shortwave radio. The hottest band at the time was the Horace Silver Quintet. With interest in the founders of modern jazz floundering, pianist Silver offered something different: a streamlined down-home version of bop that spoke directly to people who enjoyed rhythm and blues, gospel, and other forms of African American popular music.
Silver’s compositions were catchy and yet structurally sophisticated and used shifting rhythms for variety. At a time when the prevailing jazz piano style was based on long-running, harmonically complex lines, Silver combined modern harmonies with bluesy riffs, punctuated by jabbing two- or three-note left-hand chords, often in a call-and-response manner that harkened back to folk and gospel music. His young horn players provided exciting, dramatic solos; one of them, trumpeter Louis Smith, left after a brief stay to dedicate himself to music education, much to the advantage of Ann Arbor, where he eventually settled and trained generations of jazz musicians in city schools.
The members of the front line came and went. In August 1956, on the recommendation of fellow Detroiters Doug Watkins and Donald Byrd, Silver sent for nineteen-year-old Louis Hayes to join the band. Hayes had been playing in Yusef Lateef’s group, the premier modern jazz band in the Motor City; just a few months later, he found himself in New Jersey in the studio for the first time, taking part in the debut recording of Silver’s new quintet. Watkins was eventually replaced by another Detroiter–bassist Gene Taylor–and for three years Silver’s tight rhythm section pushed the band, providing a secure foundation for the musical identity of the quintet.
Hayes’ style was just right for the group; he could drive the rhythms hard without overwhelming others and had a strong melodic sense and a rich percussion vocabulary. Hayes has always created strong bonds with bassists. In Silver’s group he and Taylor divided the maintenance of the pulse between them, so that the drums became an equal compositional component and not just a keeper of the beat; indeed, Hayes often likes to float above it without ever losing the necessary propulsion.
After leaving Silver in 1959, Hayes played with some of the best groups in jazz, then moved on to lead his own bands. Having paid tribute to another old boss, Cannonball Adderley, he is now touring in support of his new CD, Serenade for Horace, on which he revisits the music that propelled his international career. He brings his group to the Blue LLama on December 6 and 7.