HORACE SILVER / “Horace Silver Mixtape”
No matter how much we know, there’s always more that we don’t know, including a bunch of unconnected dots that we should have sussed out long before but failed to do so. Actually, it isn’t really a failure, usually it's plain old negligence; we knew better, we just didn’t do better. Like, I never stopped to figure out why I liked Horace Silver so much when I was first getting into jazz. It was right after I was totally mesmerized by Monk, especially when Art Blakey was backing up Thelonious, drumming for the High Priest of Bebop, pounding toms and dropping bombs. I mean, I knew that Horace and Art had recorded together, in fact, had started the Jazz Messengers together back in 1953. I knew all that. I used to listen to that Birdland recording a lot. And “Doolin’” was my jam. But what I never put together was why Blakey sounded so good with Silver, nor had I consciously put my finger on what it was that Monk and Horace had in common. We all knew—and by “we” I mean us jazzheads, those of us who bought our records in little jazz shops on South Rampart Street about three blocks off Canal Street. Spots where you would feel like you were in a foreign country if you weren’t hip to the jazz jive. Almost no musician was referred to by their birth name and whatever record was playing when you walked in you not only should have known who it was but also known who all was in the band. Before I graduated from high school I had an advanced degree in jazz and after purchasing over three hundred albums considered myself a serious collector of jazz music. I could easily tell the difference between Ahmad Jamal and Erroll Garner and was also hip to the trivia that they both were from Pittsburgh. I used to laugh about Cecil Taylor’s put down of Bill Evans—some wannabe jazz critic gave Cecil a blindfold test and Cecil dismissed Evans with the quip: he play pretty alright but let me see if you can hear him without a mike on his ax. In case you’re wondering what any of the above paragraph has to do with the relationship between Monk and Horace Silver, well if you haven’t caught on yet, it simply means, just like me, you never put percussion specifics together with piano playing when considering the lineage of modern jazz piano. I used to wonder why in the world did Garner pay a drummer. And Monk, damn, if you couldn’t follow that beat you had no business on the hot seat. To be clear though, what I’m saying is that percussive piano playing, tied to striking melodies and fiendishly clever harmonies is the regular trademark of negroidal piano players. I could go all the way back to ragtime and take it through barrelhouse, don’t even get me started on boogie woogie… but I think by now you’ve can clearly hear what I mean. So, yeah, I knew about the percussion tradition but you know even though I knew it and understood it, I never made the major leap. Yall know all that bullshit about Latin rhythms, afro-Cuban, Bossa Nova, Tango, Mambo, etc. etc. Let me tell you something, all those nomenclatures would have you looking toward Rome or Spain or some shit. The fact is, what we are talking about is an African approach to playing the piano. You know the piano is a percussion instrument? You know a Steinway ain’t nothing but 88-tuned drums. Why you think the strikers are called hammers? I could go on but if you don’t got it by now, you probably won’t ever get it. Let me go on to some other dots. Horace Silver is a first generation African. Oh-oh, Kalamu whatcha talking about. Cape Verde. “Song For My Father.” “Cape Verdean Blues,” “African Queen.” My man wasn’t wearing those dashikis on some of his album covers just cause. But there’s more. Cape Verde is a diaspora. Folk migrated both to and from Cape Verde. The majority of it’s population survives outside the country. And there’s more, Amilcar Cabral more. That liberation struggle was so solid, it directly led to a revolution in Portugal, as well as a higher political consciousness among Cape Verdeans than among most other West African countries with the notable exception of Ghana. I know, I know these are not strictly musical dots but if you ignore these elements then you miss the Black Star cause your mind still on the slaveship Jesus. Ok, I’m stop. My man Horace Ward Martin Tavares Silva, aka Horace Silver (born September 2, 1928 in Norwalk, Connecticut) is one of the great composers of modern jazz. In fact when it comes to hard bop composers, you could pretty much start and stop with Horace Silver. Even young fellers coming along today, over fifty years after the fact, play Horace Silver compositions. I said I was going to stop, but I got to drop another little something on you. When we turned the corner in the sixties and stopped being silent about the search for Black Power, Horace Silver went the next step. People associate spiritual music with John Coltrane, ya know A Love Supreme, and all the folk who followed in Trane’s wake but listen to the last three cuts before the “Song For My Father” finale. They are from a three volume set: The United States of The Mind. Mr. Silver wrote metaphysical lyrics asserting his spiritual philosophy. Some people find a number of those ideas and the majority of the lyrics too corny, but you know this new millennium is not only economically bankrupt, there is also a spiritual shortage. Horace Silver was addressing this deficit way back in the seventies and though the vocabulary may sound quaint to us today, the issues still need to be addressed. I really, really like that Horace Silver was pushing the envelop way back when. In addition to his composing skills and his spiritual content, I also deeply dug Horace Silver’s skill as an arranger for the basic jazz combo, i.e. the quintet: two horns and a rhythm section. Plus, of course Horace was a leader in emphasizing the gospel and blues elements of the music. Silver’s approach was generally called funky but there was a lot of intelligence along with the shaking and that’s part of the reason that Horace Silver’s music comprised a major part of the classics of sixties jazz. I said early I was going to stop and here I am still going on and on like Coltrane on a good night. So just a few quick, quick tips: check out Art Blakey drumming on “Doolin’ ”; pick up on Andy Bey’s vocal work on the closing tracks; and finally that’s not the original “Song For My Father,” but a live session that was unearthed years after it was recorded and the featured soloist is my man Joe Hen, aka Joe Henderson. Ok, I’m really going to stop this time. All hail Horace Silver. —Kalamu ya Salaam Horace Silver Mixtape Playlist 01 “Sister Sadie” – The Best of Horace Silver 02 “Doodlin' ” - Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers 03 “The Preacher” - Horace Silver And The Jazz Messengers 04 “Nica's Dream” - Horace-Scope 05 “Filthy McNasty” - Doin' The Thing - At The Village Gate 06 “Senor Blues” - Live At Newport 58 07 “The Tokyo Blues” - The Tokyo Blues 08 “The Cape Verdean Blues” - The Cape Verdean Blues 09 “That Healin Feelin’ ” - The United States of Mind 10 “Peace” - The United States of Mind 11 “Old Mother Nature Calls” - The United States of Mind 12 “Song For My Father” - Re-Entry
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