Jun 19, 2014
The passing of Horace Silver yesterday at the age of 85 takes me back to the beginning of my real jazz education in the early 1970’s.
My Dad, Bert Siegel, was a jazz fan and persistent record collector. Some of my earliest memories involve hearing the music he played on the Hi-Fi. He played double bass and accordion as a teenager and college student, and was a huge fan of West Coast Cool Jazz, and “The Chairman of the Board”, Frank Sinatra. Although his bass stood in the living room as a decorative touch rather than a musical instrument, he stayed a jazz fan. .I may have heard “Take Five” before I heard “Old MacDonald Had a Farm.”
To me, Jazz was serious stuff, which is probably why I didn’t really pay that much attention to jazz when I started listening to rock music as a teenager. Where my Dad and my tastes started to come together, and where I had my first “a-ha” moment regarding jazz came when I played my new copy of Pretzel Logic by a band with which I wasn’t really familiar called Steely Dan. My friend Paul swore by them, and he had been right about Todd Rundgren’s Something/Anything so I picked it up.
The first track began with some kind of burbling percussion, and then slid into what I would later learn was a pretty direct cop of the bass line from Horace Silver’s “Song for My Father.” That 1965 tune was a classic of hard bop, with a bossa nova beat and trumpet-sax harmonies, a hallmark of the Blue Note label.
I’m not sure if it was that bossa nova sound – Stan Getz was Dad’s main man – or the familiarity of the bass riff, but my Dad was definitely intrigued by Steely Dan. From that day forward, I could always play their albums in the car. “He’s pretty good, that Steely Dan. He swings,” Dad was known to say. I never had the heart to tell him that it was a “they”, not a “he”. If he caught the X-rated Williams S. Burroughs reference in the band’s name, he never let on.
Checking out the liner notes and lyrics on the sleeve of “Pretzel Logic” I quickly figured out that these guys were into something more serious than your average rock and roll. Not only were there the stolen Silver beats on “Rikki, Don’t Lose that Number”, but they name-checked Charlie “Bird” Parker tunes on “Parker’s Band”:
You'll be riding by, bareback on your armadillo
You'll be grooving high or relaxing at Camarillo
There was also a wah-wah filled cover of Duke Ellington’s “East St. Louis Toodle-Oo” that closed the first side of the record. Pretty heady stuff for a 14 year old to digest. I checked out Horace Silver, Parker and Ellington right away, and have never left that road.
The point of this story is that Horace Silver’s music was so deceptively easy to love, so seductive, slinky, rhythmic and melodic, that his music could win over the heart of a 14 year old rock & roll fan. As a result, his music remains near and dear to my heart. I will miss “the Hard-Bop Grand Pop” was much, but will be able to turn to his music forever.