Horace SilverThe latest project for my graduate seminar in jazz studies at SDSU was a repertoire analysis of a jazz composer of my choice. I wanted to push myself out of my element and pick someone I dug but hadn't studied. I chose Horace Silver, as he's always had a prominent spot in my jazz interests, but I didn't know much about him. Silver was actually one of the first composers I encountered in my own jazz studies, back when I took an introductory jazz improv class while in college for computer science. We worked out of Jamey Aebersold's Volume 17 Play-A-Long on Horace Silver, which included "Song for My Father," "Silver's Serenade," "The Preacher," "The Jody Grind," "Sister Sadie," "Gregory Is Here," "Peace," and "Nutville." I had no idea what I was doing at the time, so any compositional wisdom I might have gleaned was lost. With the exception of "Peace," which my combo performed last semester, I hadn't looked at any of these tunes since originally learning them seven or eight years ago. But they've all remained familiar in my head. Hearing these tunes is like hearing a song from my childhood; I can feel a special connection implying that they're fundamental to my development as a jazz musician.

Here's my complete paper below. I'll leave out the annotated lead sheets, as I've heard stories that Mr. Silver is a steadfast defender of his intellectual property. (I personally don't accept the doctrine of intellectual property, which I'll address later in a whole series of posts, but my respect for the man takes precedent in this case.)


Born Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva in Norwalk, Connecticut on 2 Sep 1928, Horace Silver pioneered the hard bop style of jazz through his composing, piano playing, and bandleading. Exposed to Cape Verdean folk music (from his Portuguese-born father), blues, and jazz from a young age, Silver took up the tenor saxophone as his first instrument, heavily influenced by Lester Young. He later switched to piano, guided by the playing of Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk.[1]

In 1950, Silver's trio backed up Stan Getz for a local appearance. Getz brought the trio on tour with him for the next year and recorded three of Silver's compositions. Silver then moved to New York to further his career, and he played with many great jazz professionals such as Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young. In the following few years, he worked with Art Blakey in establishing the Jazz Messengers and began what would become a long relationship with Blue Note Records recording his own music as a leader. He left Blakey's group to pursue his own, and the two of them became the strongest exponents of the new hard bop style, incorporating elements from gospel, R&B, and blues into compositions and performances.[2]

Over the next few decades, Silver recorded exclusively for Blue Note until creating his own label in the late 1970s. Albums like Blowin' the Blues Away (1959) and Song for My Father (1964) established Silver as one of jazz's all-time great composers and pianists.


Originally released on Blowin' the Blues Away in 1959, "Peace" represents a departure from Silver's usually funky, upbeat compositions. It's a ballad with a 10-bar form and copious tonal substitutions. It's performed around 50 beats per minute, a slow tempo even for a ballad. Phil Pastras recalls asking Silver about the piece:

I remember asking Horace whether he could remember what inspired him to write "Peace." He paused for a few seconds, smiled, and said, "I was doodlin' around on the piano, and it just came to me, but I also had the impression that there was an angel standing over me, impressing my mind with this beautiful melody and harmony."[3]

The asymmetric phrasing combined with the challengingly slow tempo lends a circular nature to this tune, which makes it difficult for improvisers to keep their place in the form. The melody pulls the tune into two clear four-bar phrases followed by a two-bar recapitulation. Furthermore, each of the four-bar phrases is divided in half by weaker melodic cadences. Silver makes liberal use of motivic development in the melody. The opening figure of a quarter note triplet with a pickup reappears three more times (measures 5, 7, 9), all in different harmonic contexts with slight melodic variation, but the rhythms are identical. A second motif is stated and developed in measures 2 and 3, but is not recalled for the remainder of the form. A third motif of quarter notes on beats 3 and 4 followed by a long note beginning the following measure is used to end each of the three main phrases: measures 3 to 4, 7 to 8, and 9 to 10. Again, each occurrence is marked by a different harmonic context and melodic contour with the same rhythms.

The chord progression of "Peace" constitutes a superb study in ii-V-I substitutions. The piece begins with iim7(-5), -II7 (TTS for V7),  im7 in G minor and leads to a cadence on Bmaj7. This allows analysis of the first two and a half measures entirely in B major: -viimi7(-5) (TTS for iiimi7(-5)), V7/ii, -vimi7 (TTS for iimi7), -IImi7 (TTS for V7), IMa7. This is followed by a modulation down a half step to iimi7, V7, IMa7 in B. The next two measures, 5 and 6, modulate down another half step to A with iimi7, V7, IMa7, vimi7. This is the only sequence of unaltered 7th chords and the longest stretch in a single key center with no substitutions. It represents a moment's rest from the constant substitutions, modulations, and chord alterations in the rest of the piece, and it occurs exactly in the center of the form. Following this is a minor turnaround to a major tonic in D, and ending the tune is another substitution turnaround in B, the only repeated key center.

Ballads tend to have lengthy forms. What makes "Peace" unique is its short, 10-bar, asymmetrical form and the density of information contained therein. The harmony implies five different key centers and runs the gamut of ii-V-I substitutions in a short span. With its heavy reliance on motivic development, the melody fits together with the harmony like a puzzle. Even though the 10-bar phrasing might challenge newcomers to improvising on this piece, it's difficult to imagine it being written any other way. The efficiency with which the tune was composed is astounding.

"Silver's Serenade"

"Silver's Serenade" was first released on an album of the same name in 1963. The album, consisting of entirely original compositions, was Silver's final recording with his most famous quintet: Roy Brooks on drums, Gene Taylor on bass, Junior Cook on tenor saxophone, and Blue Mitchell on trumpet.[4] This particular tune is a 16-measure medium swing with a half-time feel. The first half is written for trumpet and tenor saxophone playing in thirds, while the second half has them playing unison. The most salient feature of the tune upon examining a lead sheet is the preponderance of minor 9th chords. Aside from the pickup measure, the first non-minor chord occurs in measure 12.

The first four bars contain a harmonized line that is repeated verbatim a perfect fifth lower in the following four bars. The line consists of two long held notes framing a short syncopated transition. Contained within this phrase is a rhythmic cell that is employed twice in the latter-half development of the piece. Other than these disguised references to the opening phrase, there is not much melodic material relating the first and second halves of the tune. They serve as more of a contrast to each other than a smooth development of ideas. The second half draws primarily from the syncopated figure in measures 2 and 6.

Harmonically, the tune is split into contrasting halves much like the melody. The first half makes exclusive use of harmonic parallelism with minor 9th chords, while the second half is mostly tonal. During the first eight measures, the primary harmonic targets (and the changes used during solos) are Emi9 for two measures, Bmi9 for two measures, Ami9 for two measures, and Emi9 for two measures. The root movements here are by tritone, down a half step, and by tritone again. Chords are assigned to each note in the syncopated transitions between resting points, in measures 2 and 6, but these represent short-lived chromatic planing, as all are minor 9th chords as well. The second half of the piece begins on Ami9 again and takes a new movement, up by mi3, to Cmi9. From here, we see a succession of chords in B: iimi7, -II7 (TTS for V7), IMa7, iimi7, iiimi7. From the iiimi7 (Dmi9), root movement up by half step takes the harmony out of the key and prepares for a turnaround back to bar one with another root movement by tritone.

A noteworthy component of this composition that is rarely seen on lead sheets from this era is the notated rhythms for the harmony. In the first half, the chords follow the melodic rhythms exactly, whereas the second half opens up a dialogue between the melodic phrases and the rhythm section. The hits in measures 9 through 16 actually become an essential part of the piece, as recognizable as the melody itself.


The first similarity I notice between "Peace" and "Silver's Serenade" is the clever use of ii-V-I substitutions and alterations. Particularly in "Peace," Silver employs a wide array of alternatives to the standard iimi7, V7. Of the six effective ii-V cells, only one is the old familiar version while each of the others is a different variation. This tendency shows up briefly in "Silver's Serenade" with the tritone substitution into the only tonal center of the piece, and with a deceptive cadence leading back to the first measure.

The melodies of both tunes make tasteful use of space. There are few strings of consecutive eighth notes, and sections of syncopated rhythms are always brief, punctuated either by long notes or silence. Motivic development is rampant within both pieces, especially with rhythmic cells in the melody. Even in "Silver's Serenade," with its contrasting first and second halves, little references to the rhythms of the first half make the second half sound cohesively like part of the same tune.



Baker, Chet. Peace. Enja. 1982. (Joe Chambers: drums, Buster Williams: bass, David Friedman: vibes and marimba)

Flanagan, Tommy. Something Borrowed, Something Blue. Original Jazz Classics. 1978. (Jimmie Smith: drums, Keter Betts: bass.)

Jones, Norah. A Very Special Acoustic Christmas. Lost Highway. 2003.

Rubalcaba, Gonzalo. Avatar. Blue Note. 2008. (Marcus Gilmore: drums, Matt Brewer: bass.)

Silver, Horace. Blowin' the Blues Away. Blue Note. 1963. (Louis Hayes: drums, Gene Taylor: bass, Junior Cook: tenor saxophone, Blue Mitchell: trumpet.)

"Silver's Serenade"

Bronx Horns, The. Silver in the Bronx. 32 Jazz. 1998. (Johnny Rodriguez, Jimmy Delgado, Wilson "Chembo" Corniel: percussion, Bernie Minoso: bass, Oscar Hernandez: piano, Mitch Frohman: tenor saxophone/flute, Bobby Porcelli: alto saxohpone, Ray Vega: trumpet/flugelhorn.)

Hall, Steve. The Steve Hall Quintet. Moovalong. 2005.

Montuno Salad. Montunotes. Guirecording. 2007.

Sidran, Ben. The Doctor Is In. Arista. 1977.

Silver, Horace. Silver's Serenade. Blue Note. 1963. (Roy Brooks: drums, Gene Taylor: bass, Junior Cook: tenor saxophone, Blue Mitchell: trumpet.)

Works Cited

Silver, Horace and Phil Pastras. Let's Get to the Nitty Gritty. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2007.

Dobbins, Bill. "Silver, Horace." Grove Music Online. http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/25792 (accessed November 22, 2010).

Huey, Steve. "Blowin' the Blues Away." AllMusic. http://www.allmusic.com/album/blowin-the-blues-away-r147574/review (accessed November 22, 2010).

[1]Bill Dobbins, "Silver, Horace," Grove Music Online, http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/25792 (accessed November 22, 2010).


[3]Horace Silver and Phil Pastras, Let's Get to the Nitty Gritty (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2007), 195.

[4]Steve Huey, "Blowin' the Blues Away." AllMusic. http://www.allmusic.com/album/blowin-the-blues-away-r147574/review (accessed November 22, 2010).