By Wendell Leafstedt
On Thursday, Jan. 7 five musicians came together to perform in a jazz concert called “The Horace Silver Project” in Harper Hall. Horace Silver was an American jazz performer and composer who lived until 2014. This concert attracted students and community members who wanted to experience Silver’s famous tunes and hear their friends perform.
The ensemble consists of Associate Professor of Music John Daniel on trumpet, Instructor of Savophone Jake Crow on tenor saxophone, Mark Martin on piano, Jerry Sparkman on bass and Mike Malone on percussion. Jake Crow ’11 and Associate Professor of Music and Teacher of Trumpet John Daniel are the only members associated with Lawrence University; the other three are local musicians.
For almost 90 minutes, the audience was treated to a thoughtful survey of Silver’s music. The concert program contained 16 different Silver compositions, Daniel explained in his introduction that the purpose of the long setlist was to give the musicians opportunities to choose the program order as they went along. After each piece concluded, they nodded and whispered to each other to decide which would best follow. They were attuned to the audience’s reactions to the music.
Many audience members showed their engagement by nodding and bouncing in their seats, while others sat in silence. Each piece elicited a different response. The tightly-coordinated ensemble reached for meaning and emotion in every note.
The wide variety of the tunes can be seen in their titles. Expressive, but not too descriptive, titles such as “Nica’s Dream,” “Song for My Father,” “Soulville” and “Filthy McNasty” gave listeners an idea of what to expect. Some tunes drove quickly along, powered by bass and percussion. Others calmly contemplated a certain far-off time or place. While there were many musical flavors, even an unaccounted listener could get a sense of Silver’s emotive style.
One of the most memorable pieces was “Moon Rays,” in which some of the instruments departed from their common jazz roles. During the outer sections, trumpet and saxophone, usually melodic instruments, played sustained backdrops for the piano’s melody, controlling the harmonic progression. It was striking to see how a simple change in composition could make such an interesting and powerful difference.
During a brief pause in the concert, Daniel described the ways Silver’s music is challenging to performers. He was still reeling from a virtuosic trumpet part on “Nutville,” but he explained that flashy, quick passages like that one are not always the hardest parts of performance. Often, difficulties arise from strange formal structures which make the music less predictable. Coordinating changes in tone or tempo between five musicians is not easy.
Attendees were able to relive memories of the years when Silver’s music was popular and see a high-level performance from experienced players. Silver’s influence on jazz music is undeniable, and the concert showed some reasons why.