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Louis Hayes Pays Homage to Horace Silver on 'Serenade for Horace,' His Blue Note Debut

Gulnara Khamatova
Louis Hayes at Systems Two, Brooklyn. November, 2016.

Louis Hayes has logged his share of session hours for Blue Note Records, as the impeccably swinging drummer for label stalwarts like Grant Green, Curtis Fuller and, indelibly, Horace Silver. Now comes his turn in the driver’s seat: Hayes will make his Blue Note debut as a leader with Serenade for Horace, due out in May.

As that title suggests, the album is a tribute to Silver, the pianist and composer with whom Hayes first made his name during the mid-to-late 1950s.

He was all of 18, a recent transplant to New York City from his native Detroit, when he joined the Horace Silver Quintet — first appearing on the 1957 album 6 Pieces of Silver, which yielded a hit single, “Señor Blues.”


Hayes went on to back Silver at the 1958 and ’59 Newport Jazz Festivals, and provide the rhythmic fire on classic albums like Further Explorations by the Horace Silver Quintet (’58), Finger Poppin’ with the Horace Silver Quintet (’59) and Blowin’ the Blues Away (’59). This was a period of unsurpassed excellence for hard-bop, in terms of both artistic standards and commercial appeal. Hayes stayed at the center of the movement even after leaving Silver.

Credit Francis Wolff
Louis Hayes at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in Hackensack, New Jersey, 1958.

The pianist recalled their split in his autobiography, Let’s Get to the Nitty Gritty. “Around 1960, Cannonball Adderley lured Louis Hayes away from us with an offer of more money,” Silver wrote. “If I had given Louis a raise, I would have had to raise the salary of everyone in the band. This I could not afford to do at the time.”

Hayes had an equally consequential tenure with Adderley, spending the first half of the 1960s — a hot streak, by any measure — in that alto saxophonist’s band. In recent years, Hayes has carried the torch with the Cannonball Legacy Band, featuring sharp younger players like Jeremy Pelt (on trumpet) and Vincent Herring (in the all-important alto saxophone chair).

As a leader, Hayes made his first statement with Louis Hayes Featuring Yusef Lateef & Nat Adderley, on the Vee-Jay label in 1960. His most recent release, in 2014, was Return of the Jazz Communicators. That album, on Smoke Sessions Records, has Steve Nelson on vibraphone, Abraham Burton on saxophones, David Bryant on piano and Dezron Douglas on bass. Here is its opening track: a Hayes original, “Lou’s Idea.”


Blue Note, which will announce Serenade for Horace today, has not divulged details about the album’s personnel or track listing. But the label has created a playlist featuring some of Hayes’ notable appearances as a sideman, not only including Silver but also Fuller, Green, guitarist Kenny Burrell and pianists Sonny Clark, Kenny Drew and Freddie Redd. It can be streamed on Spotify or Apple Music.

Hayes will celebrate the release of Serenade for Horace at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola from May 29 to 31 — ending the run on his 80th birthday.

A veteran jazz critic and award-winning author, and a regular contributor to NPR Music.