Farewells of 2014

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Horace Silver in a rehearsal

Horace Silver in a rehearsal

In 2014, the world mourned the loss of many great people; rock musician Lou Reed, actor Robin Williams, and former Boston mayor Thomas Menino were among those who passed away during the course of the year. In the jazz world, we said goodbye to many great musicians, including Horace Silver, Kenny Wheeler, and Charlie Haden. 

One of the greatest jazz pianists to ever live, Horace Silver died from natural causes on June 18, 2014, at the age of 85. Heavy gospel, African, and Latin-American influences can be heard on his recordings with drummer Art Blakey, who chose Silver as a founding member of his Jazz Messengers. Miles Davis’ Walkin’, Paul Chambers’ Whims of Chambers, and Kenny Dorham’s Afro Cuban were all graced by Silver’s work as a sideman. He was also the composer of a lot of great songs: “Song for My Father,” “Nica’s Dream,” “Sister Sadie,” “Senor Blues,” “Filthy McNasty,” and “Silver’s Serenade.” Silver was known to always have a smile on his face, whether in the studio or on a photo shoot. Originally a saxophonist who was heavily influenced by Lester Young, Silver’s piano style was heavily influenced by bebopper Bud Powell. Silver’s career began in 1950, playing behind saxophonist Stan Getz. Later he moved to New York and played weekly gigs on Mondays at Birdland. During his time there, he also met people from Blue Note Records who later signed him. Silver influenced many others such as Les McCann, Ramsey Lewis, and Bobby Timmons (a later member of The Jazz Messengers). Additionally, Steely Dan’s vamp on “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number” is based on Silver’s famous “Song for My Father”.

 

Canadian-born Kenny Wheeler passed away in a nursing home in London at 84 years of age. He was known for his trumpet and flugelhorn playing, which can be heard on great recordings with Dave Holland, John Abercrombie, and Anthony Braxton. Wheeler spent most of his life based in London, England, after moving there in 1952, where he formed a trio with singer Norma Winstone and her husband, pianist John Taylor. Before going to London, he spent a year at the Royal Conservatory in Toronto. Wheeler managed to get a lot of work in all kinds of settings, from small groups to big bands, because his range on the trumpet was very wide. In 1959 he joined saxophonist John Dankworth’s orchestra and played the Newport Jazz Festival; Wheeler ended up staying with them until 1965. A year later he discovered free jazz and started playing free with drummer John Stevens’ Spontaneous Music Ensemble. Also interested in jazz-rock fusion, Wheeler played with the Mike Gibbs Orchestra from 1969-1975. Wheeler later was invited to join a German free-jazz big band led by Alexander von Schlippenbach called the Globe Unity Orchestra.

Kenny Wheeler

Kenny Wheeler

In the 70s he signed with the record label ECM and recorded the album Gnu High that featured an all-star lineup with pianist Keith Jarrett, bassist Dave Holland, and drummer Jack DeJohnette. In his final years he recorded a lot under the label CAM jazz.

 

Many people here at Berklee talk about how bassist Charlie Haden was one of their biggest influences. Haden was born in Shenandoah, Iowa, to a musical family of farmers who started The Haden Family Band, which often performed on radio shows. Haden started out as a singer when he was only two years old, but unfortunately he contracted polio, which forced him to stop singing. Though his career as a singer ended, Haden’s interest in music, spanning Bach to modern jazz, grew and he picked up his brother’s upright bass.

Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Billy Higgins

Charlie Haden with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Billy Higgins

Haden’s career took off in the late ’50s and he eventually went on to his career’s biggest journey with saxophonist Ornette Coleman. In 1959, Haden was featured on Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, a landmark album in a year that saw releases of legendary records such as Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, John Coltrane’s Giant Steps, Dave Brubeck’s Time Out, Charles Mingus’ Mingus Ah Um, and Bill Evans’ Portraits in Jazz.  Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, which featured Haden (bass), Don Cherry (trumpet), and Billy Higgins (drums), was game-changing because it marked the beginning of free jazz, which moved away from rules with chord changes, melody, and time, replaced those elements with free improvisation.

After a six-week residency at the Five Spot Café in New York City, Haden was forced to leave the group in 1960 because of a narcotics addiction. He eventually went to rehab and started working again as a part of one of Keith Jarrett’s trios and his American Quartet with drummer Paul Motian and saxophonist Dewey Redman (father of saxophonist Joshua Redman). Later he led his own orchestra, the Liberation Music Orchestra (LMO), where pianist Carla Bley largely arranged the music. A big part of his career was dedicated to free jazz, especially the music of Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett, but Haden can be heard on countless recordings with pianist Geri Allen, saxophonist Michael Brecker, and duo recordings with Brad Mehldau, Lee Konitz, and Hank Jones.

In addition to Horace Silver, Kenny Wheeler, and Charlie Haden, we said goodbye in 2014 to other greats, including Joe Sample, Paco De Lucia, Ronny Jordan, Frankie Dunlop, and Idris Muhammad, all of whom will be sorely missed by the jazz community.

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          February 10, 2018