In this article we take an in-depth look at one of the most iconic hard bop albums in jazz history…
Few jazz musicians made themselves such an integral part of one single sub-genre of jazz as pianist and composer Horace Silver.
His playing had made the transition form bebop to hard bop relatively easily and had also brought a hint of gospel to his piano playing and compositions that would find much favour with audiences.
His had a penchant for strong melodies that were flanked by darker chords in the left hand with a strong percussive feel. His way in playing riffs with cleanly articulated melodies that would remove the harmonic complexities of bebop.
With his idiosyncratic style at the piano, strong rhythmic element and catchy riff and melodies, Silver would find much success and admiration for his playing, and would play a crucial part in the early development of hard bop.
The result: one of the most famous jazz albums of all time!
Early days of Horace Silver
Born Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silver on the 2nd September, 1928, his father, John Travares Silver, to whom the title track was dedicated, was of Portuguese origin and his mother of Irish and Negro descent.
It was his mother had showed a gift for music singing in the church choir. Playing the piano as child, Silver went on to have classical piano lessons.
At the age of eleven, a young Horace had decided that he would become a musician after hearing the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. While still in school he was playing local gigs on both piano and tenor saxophone.
After leaving school and having being diagnosed with a curvature of the spine (which hampered his saxophone playing), Silver concentrated on the piano getting his first big break in 1950 when he landed the gig as pianist for Stan Getz.
His tenure with Getz lasted for about a year, after which Silver moved to New York where he freelanced with tenorists Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young.
It was around this time that he first met saxophonist Lou Donaldson.
Donaldson was a Charlie Parker-inspired alto player, and would be influential in helping Silver with the complex harmonies and rhythms of bebop.
As a pianist his early influences were Art Tatum, boogie-woogie piano and the blues.
Silver was also greatly influenced by contemporaries Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk and absorbed this into his own burgeoning style.
This individual approach to playing and composing were not going unnoticed by Blue Note proprietors Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, and when Lou Donaldson dropped out of a quartet date for the label, Lion offered the studio time to the pianist for a trio recording.
The resulting album was to be Silver’s announcement that here was a new stylist on the instrument, and also herald some of the defining hard bop albums of the fifties and sixties.
So much so, that the pianist’s next album for Blue Note would introduce the very first use of the name ‘Jazz Messengers’.
Song For My Father
Song for My Father was recorded in November 1963 by Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers featuring Silver with Kenny Dorham on trumpet, saxophonist Hank Mobley, Doug Watkins on bass and drummer Art Blakey.
The pianist and drummer had been working together for a while as the Art Blakey Quintet, also recording for Blue Note, and when Silver left the band, the Jazz Messengers name appeared to have been bequeathed to Blakey.
A mantle that the drummer would retain for the rest of his life.
Striking out on his own, the pianist would continue to record for Blue Note with a succession of acclaimed albums that would come to be regarded as classics, and none perhaps more so than Song For My Father.
Recorded over three separate dates, Silver was between bands, hence the differing personnel, but was still able to create a superb album as he transitioned from one quintet to another.
The homogeneity achieved is quite remarkable, and while the original LP release in 1965 had only six titles, three each per side, the subsequent reissue edition on CD would include another four tunes that should certainly not be regarded as leftovers.
Turning attention to the original LP and the six titles initially released it is noticeable that Silver and Blue Note were keen to feature the latest quintet and the new frontline partnership of Carmell Jones on trumpet and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson.
It is also arguable that they also got the best of the compositions too. The quintet with Jones and Henderson especially had an edge and spark that Junior Cook and Blue Mitchel had perhaps let go out.
Certainly, Jones and Henderson, both seasoned players, had little to prove but Henderson was on a bit of a roll at this particular time and his contribution seemed to challenge the leader, who would also raise his game accordingly.
Track-by-Track: Song For My Father
The album opens with the title track Song for My Father with Silver’s signature dominant left had rhythmic figures, and the horns spelling out the simple yet effective melody.
Catchy and hypnotic the horn lines give way to Silver’s solo that dances melodically over a variation on the opening riff. This is cleverly conceived solo, and is immediately matched by Joe Henderson.
The tenor saxophonist’s entry is in contrast to what has preceded it, and delivers a tougher solo that still sticks firmly to the overall feel of the composition, taking this out a little further from the melody thus allowing Silver to resolve the tension created in his second solo.
‘The Natives Are Restless Tonight’ is taken at a brisk tempo, another memorable theme that catapults Carmell Jones into an exuberant and fast-moving solo.
Henderson is again ready to step, picking up where Jones left off in a solo that is harsh and abrasive, and again is it Silver’s innate sense of lyricism that resolves the tension with a singling right hand melody line that is in contrast to the stabbing left hand accompaniment.
Two absolutely cracking tracks that set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the album.
After the excitement generated by the first two absolutely cracking tracks that set the bar incredibly high for the rest of the album is ‘Calcutta Cutie‘ that features the earlier quintet with Mitchell and Cook in the frontline, but unusually heard in the ensemble passages only.
After the theme statement, Silver views the composition as set piece for the trio, with his own solo cleverly interspersed with changes in tempo and feel with his own jaunty sol as the centrepiece.
Drummer Roy Brooks also makes a fine contribution with some extremely tasteful playing. Side two of the LP opened with ‘Que Pasa‘, another one of Silver’s tunes that once gets in your head is impossible to shift.
Again with the new quintet, the tempo is less frenetic yet features some dramatic laying from Horace in his solo.
There is the pianist’s typical strong comping in the left and and lyrical single not line in the left, but there is also a hint of holding back.
As if t up the ante, Henderson steps in with a solo that pulls at the edges of the piece, a solo that becomes ever more tumultuous until dying back for the theme to return…
Next up is the only tune not penned by the leader. ‘The Kicker‘ by Joe Henderson is a much more straight up hard bop tune. After stating the tune, the saxophonist wastes no time in getting stuck into his solo with a vengeance.
As if relishing the opportunity to cut loose, Carmell Jones does just that, however following a less roughhewn path than the saxophonist.
Silver in his solo is a model of economy, even at this tempo, and bridges proceedings nicely between ensemble and drum breaks for Roger Humphries.
The album closes with one of Silver’s best loved compositions, ‘Lonely Woman‘, and played with just the trio of Silver with Gene Taylor (bass); Roy Brooks (drums) from the earliest of the three sessions that make up the album on 31st October, 1963.
A haunting and beautiful ballad, the melody does seem to exude a lonely quality that is affecting and effective.
The melody, tempo and depth of empathy from the trio are such, that along with Horace’s delicate solo that does hint at a more optimistic perspective, that a performance that lasts more than seven minutes appears to pass in an instant.
As complete as the original LP issue was, with the reissue on CD on Blue Note’s RVG Editions saw fit to add four extra tracks from the sessions.
While they are all perfectly acceptable they add little to the potency of the originally issued album, but do bring some interesting musical questions about this transitionary period, and the two different quintets.
For example, another trio track was recorded with Ramey and Brooks, ‘Que Pasa‘ that would ultimately make it onto the album as a quintet performance with the new group with Jones and Henderson.
Listening to both versions back-to-back the feeling is that the issued version is superior and benefits greatly from Joe Henderson’s tenor solo alongside Silver’s own. However, the trio recording does have a more relaxed and laid back feeling.
It is also interesting that the additional quintet track from the October 1963 session, ‘Sanctimonious Sam‘ and the two (originally rejected) titles from a January 1964 session with Junior Cook and Blue Mitchell, ‘Sighin‘ and Cryin” and ‘Silver Threads Among The Soul‘ only use the trumpet and saxophone for the ensemble, with neither horns taking a solo.
Whether the success of the trio tracks changed Silver’s thinking towards featuring a paired down line up for the solos is unclear.
Nevertheless, the sessions that feature the new and potent frontline partnership of Carmell Jones and Joe Henderson in the third and final session certainly re-ignited the pianists passion for the quintet sound.
- Song For My Father
- The Natives Are Restless Tonight
- Calcutta Cutie
- Que Pasa
- The Kicker
- Lonely Woman
- Sactimonious Sam *
- Que Pasa – Trio Version *
- Sighin’ And Cryin’ *
- Silver Treads Among The Soul *
* Bonus Tracks on CD Reissue
Tracks 1, 2, 4 & 5: Horace Silver (piano); Carmell Jones (trumpet); Joe Henderson (tenor saxophone); Teddy Smith (bass); Roger Humphries (drums)
Tracks 6 & 8: Horace Silver (piano); Gene Taylor (bass); Roy Brooks (drums)
Tracks 3, 7, 9 & 10: Horace Silver (piano); Blue Mitchell (trumpet); Junior Cook (tenor saxophone); Gene Taylor (bass); Roy Brooks (drums)
Recorded: October 31, 1963 (#3, 6, 7, 8); January 28, 1964 (#9-10); October 26, 1964 (#1, 2, 4, 5).
Released: Blue Notes, 1965
Nick Lea is a British jazz writer who has been publishing articles, interviews and news about jazz for more than 20 years. He is editor and writer for Jazzviews.net