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Arts Desk

The Story Behind Horace Silver's 'Song for My Father'

Horace_Silver_Getty.jpg
Gai Terrell/Getty Images
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Pianist Horace Silver in 1960

Since its release in 1965, pianist Horace Silver's "Song for My Father" and the celebrated album that shares its name have withstood the test of time and are among the most recognizable jazz songs today. A photo of Silver's father, born around 1900 as John Tavares Silva on the Cape Verdean island of Maio, is featured as the cover art of the Blue Note album."My mother was of Irish and Negro descent, my father of Portuguese origin," Silver explains in the liner notes.

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In his 2006 autobiography, Let's Get to the Nitty Gritty, Silver recalled events leading up to the iconic 1964 recording following a visit to Brazil as a guest of pianist Sergio Mendes during the week-long Carnival festivities.

"Believe me, Carnival provided much excitement," he wrote. "After returning home to New York from my visit with Sergio and (drummer) Dom Um, I was haunted by the bossa nova rhythm I had heard in Brazil. So I said to myself, 'I'm going to try to write a song using that rhythmic concept.' I sat down at the piano for a few hours and came up with a new song using the bossa nova rhythm. However, the melody didn't sound Brazilian to me; it sounded more like some of the old Cape Verdean melodies my dad had played. Dad had always wanted me to take some of the old Cape Verdean songs and do jazz interpretations of them. This didn't appeal to me, but when I realized I had written a new song with a Brazilian rhythmic concept and a Cape Verdean melodic concept, I immediately thought about dedicating the song to Dad. So I titled it 'Song for My Father'."

Horace Silver Quintet - Song For My Father | Recorded live in Copenhagen, Denmark, April 1968:

Upon returning from Rio, Silver recorded "Song for My Father" on October 26, 1964, with his newly formed quintet composed of bassist Teddy Smith, drummer Roger Humphries, trumpeter Carmell Jones, and tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson.

Official audio for "Song For My Father" by Leon Thomas, released on Ace Records:

 

Later, songwriter/vocalist Ellen May Shashoyan adapted the popular instrumental that avant-garde jazz vocalist Leon Thomas featured on his debut album Spirits Known and Unknown in 1969. Ironically, while you may find Shashoyyan on the credits for various versions of 'Song For My Father,' she did not record the lyricized jazz standard until 1980 -- 30 years after Thomas' sang her rendition of the tune.

Ellen May Shashoyan – "Song For My Father"

The lyrics for "Song For My Father” sketch a loving portrait of a father through a child's eyes:
"If there was ever a man
Who was generous, gracious, and good
That was my dad, the man!"