Concerning yesterday’s passing of the great pianist Horace Silver, others much more qualified than I will write of his musical brilliance, and communicate his importance to the music’s growth. (To that end, there is an excellent life remembrance of Silver by Peter Keepnews in today’s New York Times that you can read by going here). I would just like to devote a couple paragraphs to my own introduction to his music, and what it meant to me at the time.
When I moved from Berkeley to Portland in the summer of 1978, I was already a pretty passionate listener of jazz, but I was still in the “101” phase. I knew and loved the “A Team” — Basie, Ellington, some early Armstrong, Monk, Bird and Miles. Coltrane’s ballads were gorgeous, and I loved his playing on Kind of Blue, but other than A Love Supreme, don’t let me near any of his other crazy Impulse recordings. My ears just weren’t ready.
Shortly after arriving in Portland, I moved to a southeast neighborhood known as “Hawthorne,” which is now one of the city’s many hip enclaves, but at the time consisted only of a movie theater, several of the seediest taverns on the East side, a historic chili dog restaurant, a high end stereo store, and, most cherished to me, a record shop by the name of Bird’s Suite that specialized in all things jazz. A typical Saturday for me was to walk the five or six blocks from my little rental house on 34th and SE Hawthorne Boulevard to the record store, where I would spend much of the afternoon gathering new sounds.
During one of my Saturday visits, upon entering the store I was welcomed by the sound of an ingenious, Latin-influenced piano unlike anything I had ever heard. The rhythm of the piece was infectious, the horns were tight, and the melody was simple. I had to have it! After learning that it was Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father.” I strolled over to the “Misc S” bin and found several of his albums, some of which are now known to me as classic Silver recordings that I have since acquired, but at the time the best value was a Blue Note “Two-Fer” — a series designed to affordably introduce the label’s artists, and it included “Father,” the piece I instantly longed to own. I paid less than three dollars for it, I am sure. That record was one of an armful of albums purchased that day, but man, did it stick with me. I had it in “hot rotation” on my turntable for months. Silver became my inspiring, passionate, and accessible gateway into the glories of hard bop, and he set me off on an extended period of discovery of the music of Blakey and Herbie and Jackie McLean and Hank Mobley and Woody Shaw and Art Farmer and Joe Henderson and on and on. Silver got me to dig deeper, to hear jazz differently, and to explore more openly. In the next year or two, with the help of the shop’s somewhat eccentric proprietor, and at the instigation of Silver’s “Song For My Father,” I assembled a collection of recordings that could best be described as my “secondary education” in jazz appreciation.
I wish I had sought Silver out for an interview when I had the chance. If I did, I would have told him that he was an essential player in altering my path of musical discovery in a more progressive direction, which helped inform who I would ultimately become.