Horace Silver -- piano; Blue Mitchell -- trumpet; Junior Cook -- tenor sax; Gene Taylor -- bass; Roy Brooks -- drums
A perennial favorite over the years at the Newport Jazz Festival, pianist Horace Silver appeared at George Wein's very first bash in 1954 with the Modern Jazz Quartet, subbing for John Lewis. He later brought his own working quintet to Newport, scoring triumphs in 1957, 1958 and 1959. For his appearance at the 1960 summer bash in Rhode Island, Silver brought in a quintet consisting of Junior Cook on tenor sax, Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Gene Taylor on bass and Roy Brooks on drums. Together they delighted the Saturday evening Newport crowd with irrepressibly swinging hard bop fare from their current album at the time, Blowin' the Blues Away, which is now considered one of the classic Blue Note albums of the '60s. And as one can plainly hear, the chemistry of this tightly-knit group is simply electrifying.
They open their July 2nd set with the 12/8 Afro-Cuban flavored "Senor Blues," the 1956 hit tune from Six Pieces of Silver that put Horace on the jazz map. Cook and Mitchell blend soulfully on the frontline through the mesmerizing head before each breaks loose for a heated solo. Cook takes his time developing his tenor statement, gradually building to some high register exclamations. The underrated Mitchell, a fine hard bop trumpet stylist who would become a leader and Blue Note recording artist in his own right following the breakup of this edition of Silver's quintet, turns in a dazzling solo here. Horace's own solo is imbued with an earthiness (aka 'funky') while also exhibiting a kind of playfulness in the sheer number of familiar quotes he drops in along the way (from an extrapolation on "Bugle Call Rag" to bits of Ellington's "Things Ain't What They Used to Be," Gershwin's "Summertime" and even an excerpt from Prokofiev's "Peter and the Wolf").
Next up is the exhilarating title track from their brand new album, Blowin' Blues Away (released earlier in 1960). Both Cook and Mitchell dig in and wail here with mad abandon on this extended 18-minute version of the quintessential hard bop cooker as Silver fans the flames with his busy, dissonant comping. (And taking Horace's lead in the quote game, Mitchell twice drops in a sly reference to Benny Goodman's 1944 hit "And the Angels Sing" in the midst of his blistering solo). Silver follows with a harmonically daring and eminently swinging piano solo that is once again brimming with playful references to popular tunes and folk melodies (including Milt Jackson's "Spirit Feel" and the spiritual number "Give Me That Old Time Religion"). Drummer Brooks, who had recently replaced Louis Hayes in the lineup, takes a lengthy show-stopping solo on this bristling hard bop anthem.
The quintet continues with the gospel influenced "Sister Sadie," a catchy crowd pleaser from Blowin' the Blues Away. Mitchell solos first, flexing his chops on this bluesy vehicle as Silver provides economical, groove-conscious accompaniment behind him. Cook follows with an urgent tenor solo that is powerful in its simplicity and Silver delivers another sly turn on piano during his solo before the two horns return to engage in some fiery call-and-response exchanges. They close out their triumphant Newport set with "Me And My Baby," a jaunty new number that the quintet would record the following week for Silver's next Blue Note album, Horace-Scope (which was eventually released in 1961). This midtempo, toe-tapping blues, featuring more scintillating solos from the formidable front line of Mitchell and Cook, sets a soulful tone for the following act on the Saturday night bill, Ray Charles. Silver would make several other visits to Newport in subsequent years, but on this night in 1960, his quintet was indeed on fire.
Born on September 2, 1928 in Norwalk, Connecticut, Silver's earliest musical influences came from the Cape Verdean folk music that his Portuguese-born father played around the house. (In 1965, Silver paid tribute to his roots on the classic Blue Note album, Cape Verdean Blues). He began playing tenor saxophone in high school before switching to piano, inspired by the likes of Thelonious Monk, Art Tatum and Bud Powell. He was discovered in 1950 by Stan Getz playing in a jazz club in Connecticut and Getz subsequently used Silver's working trio as a backing band for his own concert in Hartford. In 1951, Silver moved to New York and began working with such established jazz artists as Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young and Oscar Pettiford. In 1952, he played his first Blue Note session, a date led by alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. The following year he joined forces with Art Blakey to co-lead The Jazz Messengers. They recorded a few albums together for Blue Note and in 1956 Silver left the band to record on his own. The string of albums that he released on Blue Note through the '50s and into the early '60s (including his 1964 hit single, "Song for My Father") established him as a major force in the genre that came to be known as hard bop.
Silver's '70s bands included such future stars as drummer Billy Cobham, tenor saxophonists Michael Brecker and Bob Berg, trumpeters Randy Brecker and Tom Harrell. All of his recorded output through the '80s was released on his own Silveto label, and he returned to major label status in 1993 with 1993's It's Got to be Funky. His last recording as a leader (for the GRP label) was Jazz Has a Sense of Humor, a credo that Silver carried throughout his illustrious career. (Milkowski)