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Horace Silver- Song for My Father (1965)

Horace Silver- Song For My Father

Blue Note Records

Released at the End of January 1965

Recorded on October 31, 1963 (#3, 6, 7, 8); October 26, 1964 (#1, 2, 4, 5).

Early Life

Horace Silver was Born in Norwalk, Connecticut, and had a mixed heritage, including white, black, Portuguese, and Native American relatives. Silver often borrowed elements from these cultures’ music as a composer and was particularly inspired by Cape Verde Island’s music, where his father was born. Silver began early music training on tenor saxophone and piano but eventually settled on piano by the late 1940s. While a fine pianist, he was not a virtuoso like Art Tatum or Bud Powell. Silver performed in a hybrid bop and swing style and focused much of his attention on writing tunes.

By 1950, Horace Silver was leading a trio in Hartford, Connecticut. During this time, he came to the attention of saxophonist Stan Getz and served as a pianist with his band. After making his first recording with Getz, Horace Silver moved to New York and backed stars like Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, and alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson. Expected to enter the studio with Donaldson in 1952, the saxophonist never made the session, and Silver served as the de facto bandleader for the date. This session with Art Blakey and Curly Russell (bass) resulted in his first release as a leader called New Faces, New Sounds (Blue Note), which offered six original Silver tracks, including “Quicksilver” and “Horoscope.”

After recording his first album, Silver continued to work as a sideman with artists like Miles Davis, Milt Jackson, Sonny Stitt, Howard McGhee, and others. Many of Silver's sessions at the time also included drummer Art Blakey. The two decided to join forces as the Jazz Messengers. As part of the group, Silver remained one of the group's principal writers. His gospel-inspired song “The Preacher” from the album Horace Silver and The Jazz Messengers (Blue Note Records, 1956) received crossover success and showcased a new hybrid jazz style called Hard Bop.

Hard Bop

By the early to mid-1950s, jazz music had changed considerably and began a slow decline in popularity as audiences developed new interests in R&B and early rock and roll. While swing dominated the 1930s and early 1940s, several musicians adopted styles like bebop and cool jazz by the mid-1940s, which moved the music in a direction that was less concerned with entertainment and more geared towards a listening audience. With the death of Charlie Parker in 1955, it seemed clear that the popularity of bebop was also nearing its end. While some musicians looked to the more subdued and classical-influenced “cool” style that Miles Davis and his contemporaries popularized, others were not ready to entirely abandon the language of bebop.

Several musicians and critics began to feel that cool jazz had moved jazz away from its original roots and deep connection with African rhythm. To return jazz to a style more connected to the African American experience, several jazz musicians began incorporating music from the black church fused with blues, R&B, and bop to create a style known as hard bop. Unlike cool jazz, which focused more on written structures and softer textures, hard bop musicians relied heavily on improvisation connected with a bebop language and the black experience. Other labels used to define this style include “post-bop” or “soul jazz.” Art Blakey and pianist Horace Silver were two of the most celebrated figures to incorporate the hard bop style.

About “Song For My Father”

(+ means "recommended track" and * means released as a single)

In 1956, Silver was growing frustrated by the heroin use within the Jazz Messengers band and left the group. He soon formulated his quintet with Junior Cook (tenor sax), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), Gene Taylor (bass), and Roy Haynes (drums). With the group, Silver continued to offer a post-bop mix of swing, gospel, blues, and island-influenced compositions with the quintet. Several of his songs were released as popular jukebox singles. His most famous album would be “Song For My Father,” inspired by Silver's trip to Brazil. Each of the six tracks on the album are original compositions—five by Silver and one by saxophonist Joe Henderson. The album's cover shows a picture of Horace Silver’s father.

Track 1- “Song For My Father” is the album's showpiece and Silver’s most famous tunes. The song is over seven minutes long and features Horace Silver on piano, Carmell Jones on trumpet, the legendary Joe Henderson on tenor sax, Teddy Smith on bass, and Roger Humphries on drums. Silver said the song was "partly inspired by our Brazilian trip. We got the Brazilian rhythm for this tune from that trip, and the melodic line was inspired by some very old Cape Verdean Portuguese folk music." One of the amazing aspects of the tune is that it's only four chords, and the magic lies not within the harmony but with the memorable melodic themes and the overall rhythmic feel. At around 1:40, Silver plays the first solo. He is never overly flashy but has a fine ability to connect short phrases and provide an overall soundscape in the same fashion he creates as a composer. At around 3:57, Joe Henderson begins his improvisation. Henderson was one of the premier saxophonists of the mid-1960s and beyond. Consistent with his style, Henderson blends a beautiful tone, a level of extreme technicality, and overall tastefulness in this solo. (+*)

Track 2- “The Natives Are Restless Tonight” is a more upbeat presentation that begins with a Latin groove before shifting to swing. Taking the first solo is trumpeter Carmell Jones. Jones is not regularly discussed amongst the great jazz trumpeters, but his solo on this piece shows that he belongs in the discussions. Jones might be further recognized in the US, but by the time of this release, he had relocated to Germany, where he remained until 1980. On the other hand, Joe Henderson has been widely celebrated for his mastery, which he displays at around 1:45 into the tune. At around 3:10, Silver takes his turn as a soloist; although he reveals a certain degree of technique, his left-hand chording is often heavy-handed, distracting from the melodicism of his lines. Silver is best as a soloist when he creates and builds off short melodic ideas and reference points from the main melody. Following Silver’s solo, bassist Teddy Hill plays a walking bass solo at 4:35, after which drummer Roger Humphries plays an impressive drum solo. Humphries had played with a host of celebrated musicians, but his most memorable sessions came as a member of Horace Silver’s group between 1964-1965. (+)

Track 3- “Calcutta Cutie” is a more subdued piece that takes listeners on a journey. It offers a unique melodic line played by trumpeter Blue Mitchell and saxophonist Junior Cook, both well-regarded jazz instrumentalists. At 1:35, Horace Silver offers the first solo, and the rhythm section, which now includes bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Roy Brooks moves between the more relaxed Latin groove into moments of traditional swing. Silver's playing of the more Latin forms offers some fantastic and tasteful moments. At around 5:15, Roy Brooks takes a solo by using mallets. This may have been an attempt to reference an African or Indian drumming style. Silver retakes center stage during a somewhat nebulous section before the main melody is presented. The song does not end there as Silver returns to a more open section before a fade. The piece clock in at 8:31 but is never stagnant or boring.

Calcutta is home to Eastern India’s film industry, known as “Tollywood.” The city also holds many of India’s most important cultural centers like the Academy of Fine Arts, the Victoria Memorial, The National Library of India, and the Indian Museum. (+)

Side 2

Track 1- “Que Pasa,” feels somewhat similar to “Song for My Father”; as with the title track, Horace Silver plays the first solo. Drummer Roy Brooks does a fine job of setting the mood behind Silver. A highlight happens at around 3:50 when Joe Henderson enters with his improvisation. It is a fantastic solo that is perfectly executed. Few can play with as much soulfulness and imagination as Henderson. Following Henderson's solo, the rhythm section quiets things down and plays an interlude before the main melodic returns.

Track 2- The Kicker” is written by Joe Henderson and is the only piece not written by Silver on the original LP. The song is played at a breakneck speed and offers a very tightly played melody with precise rhythmic kicks. It's one of Henderson’s most celebrated pieces. Henderson’s solo showcases his extreme mastery over the tenor saxophone, and his playing puts him in a category with sax legends like Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Dexter Gordon. Carmell Jones enters with his fine solo at around 2:00, and he again displays why he might be one of his generation's most underappreciated jazz trumpeters. Silver enters with his solo at around 3:10, but instead of trying to match the fire of Henderson and Jones, he stays within the nature of his solo style by playing mostly well-connected sequences. At around 4:15, drummer Roger Humphries plays an awe-inspiring drum solo in the fashion of Art Blakey. The melodic line is then presented to close out this fantastic album cut. (+)

Track 3- “Lonely Women.” The original LP concludes with this original Horace Silver ballad that showcases the pianist playing in a trio format with bassist Gene Taylor and drummer Roy Brooks. The track leans towards subtle cool jazz and displays Silver playing with a lighter touch and greater sensitivity. At over 7:00, the piece seems to drag a bit and might have been of more interest had a second melodic voice split the solo section with Horace Silver.

In Conclusion

A Song For My Father is a jazz classic and should be part of every music fan's collection. The album received five out of five stars from All Music Guide and The Encyclopedia of Popular Music, four out of five stars from The Rolling Stones Jazz Records Guide, and four out of four stars from the Penguin Guide To Jazz. After Song For My Father, Silver continued to lead groups and record albums. Musically active for most of his life, Horace Silver died in 2014 at 85. He is a member of the DownBeat Hall of Fame.

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