horace silver, 1928-2014


horace silver, as photograped by francis wolff during the blue note recording sessions for ‘song for my father.’

Once my ears accepted the music of the post-Ellington jazz giants – people like Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane and especially Miles Davis – a growing interest in bebop led me to the golden age of Blue Note Records. There, a series of ’50s and predominantly ‘60s albums by Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Dexter Gordon and a dozen or so others brought me to the kind of jazz that excited me most – a sound that was sleek but substantial and cool but continually risk-taking in terms of composition, groove and improvisatory prowess. Two of the first Blue Note albums that introduced me to those possibilities were Morgan’s Search for the New Land and Horace Silver’s Song for My Father.

To this day, Song for My Father remains, to my ears, one of the most listenable jazz recordings from any era. Released in 1965 from sessions held the two previous years with two different bands, the album boasted four extraordinary Silver originals, one by the great tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson (who greatly heightened his career visibility with this record) and an exquisite after-hours trio reading of Ornette Coleman’s Lonely Woman that sounded for all the world like Bill Evans. (A wonderful 1999 CD reissue of the album doubles the playing time with four wonderful outtakes from both sessions and bands.)

But it was the title song that lit up everyone’s ears. It was a light, bossa nova melody with a slight autumnal undertone that I must have listened to a couple of thousand times since I was exposed to the album roughly a decade after its initial release. In fact, my introduction to Song for My Father coincided almost directly with the radio popularity of Steely Dan’s 1974 hit Rikki Don’t Lose That Number, which appropriated exactly the bouncing bass intro of Silver’s tune.

Silver died Wednesday in New Rochelle, New York at the age of 85. While there are numerous other classics in the pianist’s catalogue, the record I listened to again last night as the welcome rains hit was Song for My Father. And the front of the album cover I held in my hands didn’t boast a picture of this Blue Note pioneer. It instead sported a regal but relaxed portrait of his Cape Verde-born father, John Tavares Silva. I smiled, thought of my own dad and savored every blue note that came from Silver’s fingertips.

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