The Top 6 Albums of Horace Silver

posted by Kevin Lannister

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The Top 6 Albums of Horace Silver
1. The Tokyo Blues
2. Stylings of Silver
3. The Jody Grind
4. Song for My Father
5. Serenade to a soul sister
6. Cape Verdean Blues

“Jazz is not background music. You must concentrate upon it in order to get the most of it. You must absorb most of it. The harmonies within the music can relax, soothe, relax, and uplift the mind when you concentrate upon and absorb it. Jazz music stimulates the minds and uplifts the souls of those who play it was well as of those who listen to immerse themselves in it. As the mind is stimulated and the soul uplifted, this is eventually reflected in the body.”

“Musical composition should bring happiness and joy to people and make them forget their troubles.”

Jazz pianist Horace Silver, a progenitor of the style known as hard bop and whose piano riff in “Song for My Father” was the backbone of Steely Dan‘s biggest hit, died June 18 at his home in New Rochelle, N.Y. He was 85. Born in Connecticut in 1928, Silver learned from his Portuguese father who taught him folk music from Cape Verde off the coast of West Africa. The saxophonist Stan Getz was the first musician to hire him and Lou Donaldson tapped Silver for his first recording, a 1952 session for Blue Note.

Working with the drummer Art Blakey, he co-founded the prototype of hard bop bands, the Jazz Messengers in 1953, integrating elements of blues and gospel within the bright tempos and virtuosity favored in bebop. On their first album, released in 1954, Silver wrote all but one of the songs, then left the band a year later to go solo.

Between 1955 and 1980, Silver made more than 20 records for Blue Note, among them revered titles such as “Song for My Father” in 1964, “Blowin’ the Blues Away” in 1959 and “The Jody Grind” in 1966. His bands often featured the trumpeter Blue Mitchell and tenor saxophonist Junior Cook.

During his fertile period with Blue Note, Silver wrote the hard bop classics “Song for My Father,” “Senor Blues,” “The Preacher” and “Filthy McNasty.” His funky, melodic style as a composer and pianist had significant commercial appeal at a time when jazz was splintering into factions and fading from the mainstream.

His “Song for My Father (Cantiga Para Meu Pai)” hit No. 95 on the Billboard 200 in 1965 and year later “The Cape Verdean Blues” reached No. 130.

Hard bop and cool jazz shared a pedigree: They were both variations of bebop, the challenging, harmonically intricate music that changed the face of jazz in the 1940s. But hard bop was simpler and more rhythmically driven, with more emphasis on jazz’s blues and gospel roots. The jazz press tended to portray the adherents of cool jazz (most of them West Coast-based and white) and hard bop (most of them East Coast-based and black) as warring factions. But Mr. Silver made an unlikely warrior.

“I personally do not believe in politics, hatred or anger in my musical composition,” he wrote in the liner notes on his album “Serenade to a Soul Sister” in 1968. “Musical composition should bring happiness and joy to people and make them forget their troubles.”

As social and cultural upheavals shook the nation during the late 1960s and early 1970s, Silver responded to these changes through music. He commented directly on the new scene through a trio of records called United States of Mind (1970-1972) that featured the spirited vocals of Andy Bey.

The composer got deeper into cosmic philosophy as his group, Silver ‘N Strings, and recorded the Silver ‘N Strings – Play The Music of the Spheres (1979).

“After Silver’s long tenure with Blue Note ended, he continued to create vital music. The 1985 album, Continuity of Spirit (Silveto), features his unique orchestral collaborations. In the 1990s, Silver directly answered the urban popular music that had been largely built from his influence on It’s Got To Be Funky (Columbia, 1993). In Jazz Has A Sense of Humor (Verve, 1998), he shows his younger group of sidemen the true meaning of the music.”

Let’s investigate now the top 6 albums of this great piano wizard:

6. The Cape Verdean Blues

A classic set from Horace Silver – one in which his quintet is expanded by some great guest work from trombonist J.J. Johnson! Johnson’s at the height of his 60s powers here – blowing with that lean, soulful style that always made any record sparkle – and although he’s only on half of the tracks on the date, his presence is more than worth the heavy billing he gets on the cover!

Other great members of the group include Woody Shaw on trumpet, Joe Henderson on tenor, and rhythm from Bob Cranshaw on bass and Roger Humphries on drums – all coming together with that wonderful 60s Silver groove. The set’s filled with sweetly grooving originals by Horace – a blueprint for the exotic style of soul jazz he helped to forge at the time – great writing all around, on titles that include “Mo Joe”, “Nutville”, “Bonita”, “The African Queen”, and “Pretty Eyes”.

5. Serenade to a soul sister

I have to be honest, there’s not a single Horace Silver song that I don’t like. So now that my biases are out front, Silver returned in 1968 with this hard bop masterpiece, Serenade to a Soul Sister. Joined by tenor giant Stanley Turrentine, the band might not be the most recognizable names in the history of jazz but that’s the way I like it. This group of musicians fly under the radar, digging deep for those blues.

Judging from the way Turrentine and Tolliver made their solo, I would’ve liked to known this soul sister. Silver’s comping on this song is typical, very relaxed and to the point with a heavy use of chords in the middle register. What I enjoy most about Silver is his consistency as a soloist is that he’s not going to play note after note like a Tyner or Hancock would, he has a nasty pocket and plays accordingly instead. His solo is marked by some nice upper register, singular melodic ideas that are simple but groove perfectly with the song. Hats off to one of the best!

4. Song for My Father

Song for My Father is a 1965 album by the Horace Silver Quintet, released on the Blue Note label in 1965. The album was inspired by a trip that Silver had made to Brazil. The cover artwork features a photograph of Silver’s father, John Tavares Silva, to whom the title song was dedicated. “My mother was of Irish and Negro descent, my father of Portuguese origin,” Silver recalls in the liner notes: “He was born on the island of  Maio of the Cape Verde Islands.”

3. The Jody Grind

It’s an interesting record which peaked at No. 8 in the Billboard jazz album charts, and is not what you might expect from the cover, though that probably didn’t harm sales. Jody is apparently a contraction of the name of Joe the Grinder, a character in blues mythology, a ladies man, who seduces the wives and sweethearts of absent prisoners and soldiers. Grinder is from an old slang verb, to grind, meaning to … Well you can figure that for yourselves. So,The Jody Grind. Blank looks.

2. The Stylings of Silver

The Styling’s Of Silver was recorded one year after Silver left the Jazz Messengers (which he co-founded with Art Blakey) and it is acknowledged as one of the most exciting hard bop albums of 1957. With trumpeter Art Farmer and tenor-saxophonist Hank Mobley forming the front line, Silver had two major artists who were pure perfection in interpreting his original material.

The Styling’s of Silver is probably best known for the track “Home Cooking” lyrics that made the tune into a major hit. The other Silver originals, including “Soulville,” “No Smokin'” and “Metamorphosis,” are memorable in their own right. Combine catchy tunes, smoking solos and Horace Silver’s rhythmic piano and one has the hard bop classic known as The Styling’s of Silver.

1. The Tokyo Blues

On this CD, cut in 1962 after a happy trip to Japan, it was Silver’s intention to write some compositions combining “traditional Japanese feeling in the melodies with Latin feeling in the rhythms.” Four of the album’s pieces were composed by him, another, the pretty ballad “Cherry Blossom,” by Ronnell Bright. The group includes trumpeter Blue Mitchell, tenorman Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor and drummer John Harris.

Whatever motivated Horace, his four originals sure are attractive and good materials to improvise on. The underappreciated Cook solos thoughtfully and melodically, as does Mitchell, among the finest post-bop trumpeters. Sometimes thought to have been influenced by Clifford Brown, Mitchell was actually a parallel figure who drew on similar sources. Blue had already evolved to a pretty distinctive style by 1952, as his work with Lou Donaldson in that year indicates, at a time when Brown was virtually unknown. Horace solos with a nice combination of restraint, lyricism and funk.

Thank you for reading this article. The next one will be about Cannonball Adderley, the jazz saxophonist.


Kevin Lannister (see all articles)

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