Horace Silver was able to arrange, compose and perform music that was from the heart and soul.
Our Take: A True Silver Lining
We all have a list of famous people who inspire us or, at the very least, intrigue us to the point of near obsession. Winston Churchill is at the top of my list. I believe I have read just about every book written about him. Muhammad Ali, Bobby Kennedy and Ruth Bader Ginsburg are next in line. No, I am not going to bore you with the “why” of my attraction to each of them. Doing so would be either stating the obvious or delving too deeply into personal concerns.
What I will do is to share my near obsession with a great jazz artist, pianist Horace Silver. The “why” here is also a combination of the obvious and the personal. Only this time I will share. After all, if we cannot share our thoughts about jazz, then the purpose of The Weekender would disappear, leaving a certain void of time and thought in my week that I could not replace.
“Being able to stand one’s ground and follow one’s convictions, particularly when many around you are doing something else, is what I admire in Horace Silver.”
I guess my initial attraction to Horace Silver was my affinity for the title of one of his most famous compositions and albums — Song for My Father. As I have shared before, my father played alto saxophone and sang. Doing so was definitely his most authentic moments. He worked hard in business and was a dutiful husband and caring father, but each of those tasks required effort on his part. The music just flowed naturally.
Once connected to Silver’s music, I became a huge fan. I love listening to a great piano player. The range of notes and emotions that a piano can emit seems endless. Horace Silver had a sound that attracted me and, in my opinion, was always recognizable. That caused me to delve deeper into the background of this man whose music had become part of my life.
There is often a disconnect between the character of one’s music and the character of the musician creating the music, particularly in the world of jazz. Some of the sweetest sounds have been created by some of the most tormented souls. The image of the great musician falling prey to drugs or alcohol is such a cliché that it is hard to imagine a jazz musician without those impediments. Horace Silver was one of those exceptions.
Famously, in 1956, at the height of the influence of Art Blakey, Silver left The Jazz Messengers and all connection to Blakey because of the heroin use that permeated the band. Silver was a spiritual, religious man. He found inspiration in nature and matters of the mind, such as meditation. Not needing a needle or a bottle to fend off despair or falsify courage, Silver was able to arrange, compose and perform music that was from the heart and soul.
Silver’s independence and willingness to follow his own path led him to become one of the pioneers of the self-owned record label. The practice is commonplace now, but, back in 1980 when Silver formed Silveto, having his own label and doing his own publishing were ground breaking undertakings.
He loved his family and, unlike many jazz musicians, chose to spend his later years performing less and spending more time with his wife and son. Living a full life outside of music did not reduce his impact, fame or achievements. Silver received a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters award in 1995. The following year, he was added to DownBeat’s Jazz Hall of Fame and received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Berklee College of Music.
I love movies about jazz, though virtually all of them center on the disparaging side of their careers, which leaves audiences with a distorted impression of Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and Chet Baker, to name a few. Perhaps the life story of Horace Silver is not dangerous enough for a movie or it is simply the exception that proves the rule. Both explanations miss the point. The truth is many famous jazz musicians fell victim to drugs and booze. Many did not. My man Horace was one of the Silver linings in that era of jazz. Being able to stand one’s ground and follow one’s convictions, particularly when many around you are doing something else, is what I admire in Horace Silver.
By the way, that trait is the answer to the “why” for the other “obsessions” I have listed above. Each of them followed their own mind and heart, despite many others doubting and even ridiculing them. Had I been able to write a Song for My Father, it would have been a tune that captured my Dad’s moments playing music, for those were the moments when he held his ground and followed his spirit.
Our Take is written by Michael Lazaroff, Executive Director of The Jazz Cruise, The Smooth Jazz Cruise and Blue Note at Sea. Feel free to express your views or pose questions to him at email@example.com.
Jazz at Lincoln Center’s New Streaming Series Starts Oct. 1
Jazz at Lincoln Center will welcome audiences from around the world back to Dizzy’s Club with the launch of Live From Dizzy’s, a weekly virtual series of live-streamed concerts.
Beginning on October 1, the Live From Dizzy’s series of concerts will feature Catherine Russell, Bill Charlap, Jeremy Pelt and George Cables, Christian Sands, Wynton Marsalis, Alexa Tarantino, Julian Lee, Isaiah J. Thompson, Endea Owens and Kyle Poole.
Cuban jazz pianist Harold López-Nussa, who has sailed and performed on two of our jazz cruises, recently teamed up with funk superstar vocalist Cimafunk on a throwback music video featuring Cuban music and dance.
The video, filmed in Cuba, is a fun take on Los Van Van’s classic song, “El Buey Cansao.”
Click here to check out the music video, which just premiered earlier this week!