Photo credit: Dmitri Savitski
Website: Horace Silver
Horace Silver (by Dee Dee Bridgewater)
March 22, 2022
I discovered Horace Silver on one of my father/daughter dinner nights in Flint, Michigan where I grew up. While eating at our neighborhood restaurant, a song came on the jukebox that caught my ear. Mid-conversation, I asked my father what song was playing, and he replied that it was a young pianist named Horace Silver and that the song was called “Song For My Father.” I was 15 and I was smitten. It was the funky rhythm, the simplicity of the melody… I could hum it.
Fast forward to the summer of 1970, and I’m newly wed to trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater. We had just moved to New York City where, after auditioning, he was hired to be in Horace’s band. I was thrilled, so off we went on tour (my honeymoon) with Horace Silver. It was at the time of his United States of Mind albums with Andy Bey’s vocals. I loved the songs and Horace’s lyrics and wanted badly to sing with the band like Andy. Andy and I decided I’d do just that in Detroit, Michigan, where my family was coming to check out my new husband with Horace’s band. Without asking, after Andy had finished “Peace” (and Horace’s head was bowed), I began singing “Love Vibrations”. Horace looked up after the first 3 words and asked what I was doing onstage, and before I could answer he ordered me off, to my complete humiliation. But it was at that moment (knowing I was wrong) I became determined to prove to Horace that I could sing his music. I began to include his compositions in all my performance repertoires and even on my first albums AFRO BLUE and KEEPING TRADITION.
In 1995, I decided to honor Horace with an album of his music. This time I called Horace for his permission…he was shocked that the first person to honor him this way was a woman. When I gave him my selection of his compositions, he announced that he would write all the lyrics. And he accepted my request that he perform on the album (something he’s never done before or since). I flew him to Paris, France for the project and he graced my musicians and I by coming to the studio every day we recorded. He loved the arrangements and the European musicians, in particular pianist/organist Thierry Eliez. That album LOVE AND PEACE: A Tribute to Horace Silver received a Grammy nomination. My dream for this album was that it would provide new vocal material for jazz singers, away from the ‘standards’. I proudly sing his compositions to this day.
Horace Silver is the epitome of funk, soul, and jazz all rolled into some foot-stomping, finger-popping jazz classics. His are hummable, memorable melodies, with slight twists here and there. His lyrics don’t always mesh rhythmically (it took me several months to smoothly marry the textes with the melodies), and other vocalists who’ve attempted some of the songs from my album complain about the difficulty of those melodies. However, I’ve worked it all out throughout the years, and am proud to represent his music in the vocal tradition.
Horace Silver is an underrated composer deserving a much wider recognition. I’m proud to have been an aid in bringing his music to a wider audience, and to have finally been blessed with his approval.
Dee Dee Bridgewater is a three-time Grammy Award-winning singer-songwriter, and a Tony Award-winning stage actress. She hosted the NPR radio show JazzSet with Dee Dee Bridgewater for 23 years, and she is a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization. Her 1995 album Love and Peace: A Tribute to Horace Silver was nominated for a Grammy in the Best Jazz Vocal Performance category.