I can still see, in my mind’s eye, the vehicle by which Music first came to me. It was a small, tan and reddish brown, all-in-one record player, which had one speaker, perhaps 3 inches in diameter, located between the light brown platter and the base of the tonearm. The “needle” assembly was the type that had a small extension going to the side, which could be used to flip the assembly over in order to expose a second needle. One side was used for LPs and singles, the other side for “78s”.
The records it played were a mix of some classics (I can distinctly recall the green label on a 78 rpm set of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “The Mikado”), several “33s” of original cast recordings, and a few pop albums (Elvis’ Gold Records stands out in memory) but mostly, the “45s” filled with the street corner harmonies of rhythm and blues based late ‘50s Doo Wop, as well as other R&B. I can still see the pale blue and tan colors on the label of a single by Little Anthony and the black and red label on the single of Ray Charles’ “What’d I Say?”
As music took hold of my spirit, I became increasingly interested in both how music is made and later on, how recordings of music are made. At age nine, I started piano lessons, then guitar lessons. We didn’t have a piano at home but I did have a guitar. Guess which one stuck. (Many years later, once on my own, a piano did come but guitar had a good head start.) I had a set of drums too but growing up in an apartment building set limits on when they could be played. A few years later, some school friends and I started getting together to “jam” on Saturday afternoons. I started recording our jams using my brother’s reel-to-reel tape recorder and found I could play drums, then add a guitar part. It would be several years later that I would hear the terms “multitracking” and “overdubbing”.
If listening to music (of all types) was becoming an important nourishment for the deepest parts of me, the “minimum daily requirement” increased significantly the day I first heard the Beatles on the radio. While other music seemed to have pre-existed, to have been there waiting for me to find it, the Beatles felt like the moment. Their music brought a good many firsts to my experience. I’d never before anticipated an artist’s next release – and each new Beatles release seemed to present a new musical world. I’d never concentrated on the lyrics to this degree. (Actually, for the first several listens to any song, I still hear sung lyrics as another instrument. Only after I’ve digested the vocals as raw sound do I find myself hearing the meaning in the words.) It is amazing to consider how much musical ground this ensemble covered in a very short amount of time. There is probably much more I can say about the Beatles and the impact their music had (and has) on my life. For now, I’ll just say they added value to it. I know of nothing greater any work of art can accomplish.
Some years later, I was turned on to jazz and with it, radically expanded musical horizons. Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and countless other artists simply opened up the way I heard music, providing musical landscapes I couldn’t have imagined before. Charles Mingus could put so much passion in his compositions, the rhythms themselves might warrant an “R” rating.
Ultimately, music is the performance. It is played and then it is gone. While there is certainly nothing like being in the presence of the players when the music is created, the overwhelming majority of the music I’ve heard came to me through recordings. How else could I have experienced the music from so many who had already passed by the time I heard them? What magic! No wonder I became fascinated with records from an early age. Music of the ages, music for the ages, all available at the listener’s whim. Those early experiences with the reel-to-reel recorder were just the first tentative steps. I didn’t know it at the time but I was just getting started on a long, wonderful journey.