A Guide To Help You Play Better Jazz Piano

Ron Drotos

History and overview:
Horace Silver’s “Song For My Father” is one of the all-time great “beginning jam session tunes.” And despite its popularity with beginning jazz musicians, it’s still fun to play if you’re at a more advanced level. Even if you’ve played it a million times, you can always find something new in it!

Silver first recorded “Song For My Father” in 1965. It features a Latin rhythm and a very “Spanish” sounding chord progression.

Recommended videos/recordings:
(for international readers who may not have access to these YouTube links, I’ve indicated the original album names wherever possible so you can listen to them on music streaming services, etc.)

The Horace Silver Quintet: Song For My Father

Dee Dee Bridgewater: Love and Peace

Musical ideas and jazz piano practice tips:
We can learn much about how to solo over a chord progression by analyzing the note choices a composer used when writing the tune’s melody. My jazz piano teacher Billy Taylor told me this regarding bebop tunes, and it applies to many other jazz styles as well.) So let’s see what Horace Silver did with the melody to “Song For My Father.”

The first thing we come across is the almost-hypnotic descending phrase that opens the tune. It uses an F Natural Minor scale, which is the same as the key signature. After the scalar passages in the 1st two measures, the melody rests in the tonic note of the Eb7 chord and then uses a chromatic passing tone to get to the Db7 chord when Silver lands on two chord tones. The ‘A’ Section ends with a bit of a surprise: a held-out 9th of the Fm7 chord.

This tells us a lot about what we can do while soloing:
1. Use scales and stepwise motion within a given scale
2. Use chord tones
3. Alternate short/long notes
4. Emphasize the colorful chordal extensions such as the 9th.

After that, the ‘B’ Section stated a phrase and then repeats it, starting on another scale degree. This is called a “melodic sequence” and we can add it to our bag of tricks as well.

Now, as you work on your soloing, try each of these techniques for the whole tune, not just where Silver used them in the melody. This will give you the facility to use any of them at any time, wherever and whenever your musical ear tells you to. This is one of the best ways you can practice improvising on a jazz tune and “Song For My Father” is a good place to start. The chords don’t move too fast so you have some time to think about what to play next.

Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”

Further links and resources:
Song For My Father (song): Wikipedia
Includes some analysis of Silver’s piano playing on the recording

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