I stumbled onto a recent clip yesterday of Elton John interviewing Joni Mitchell. She mentioned one of her musical epiphanies, a 1959 record titled The Hottest New Group in Jazz. That got me thinking about my own musical epiphanies. I’ve had a few.
I’ll skip right past The Beatles and Bob Dylan because I simply can’t recall the grabbed-me-by-the-throat moment for either. Each, though, had a monumental impact on me from a very early age and contributed mightily to whatever it is I’ve become.
There’s so much music that I love, that makes the world stand still, but these were unforgettable moments of grace and revelation that reverberate to this day. (I’d love to know yours.) Interestingly, each one represents my discovery of, and emersion into, a genre as much as the spark that lit a love affair with the artists themselves…
Jazz. I was a pretty shy, introspective kid with few friends and wound up traveling with my mom to visit her friends when other kids my age were doing, well, anything but. I was maybe 9-11 in that period. One of those visits found me in some woman’s basement facing a lineup of a hundred or more record albums. I picked one at random and played it. It was Benny Goodman’s earth-shattering 1938 live recording from Carnegie Hall. It was the first time Carnegie Hall had opened its doors to a jazz artist which made it historic on its face. But it was the music that made it a truly historic event. I remember being captivated by everything I was hearing but what really blew my little mind was Sing Sing Sing. The song seems to end about 3.5 minutes in, but it’s really just getting started.
Blues. By now I’m 13 or 14 and flipping through a rack of brother Jeff’s albums when I hit on one whose stark cover featured a sad looking dude with long white hair. It didn’t scream ‘play me’ but I slapped it on the turntable anyway and this came out. Once again, my gradually expanding mind was blown.
Singer/Songwriter. I had a crush on a girl but had no clue what to do about it. So at 15, when she introduced me to Jackson Browne, I acted blasé. The words and music floored me, but I guess, alone with her in her room in her parent’s house, it felt too intimate to be truthful. The first cut on that record was Jamaica Say You Will. It sent me somewhere I’d never been. I don’t know how I didn’t just melt into her arms.
Opera/Classical. In September 1984, I attended a screening of Milos Forman’s Amadeus. I knew almost nothing about Mozart or classical music going in, and likely had fairly low expectations. Turns out I was spellbound, from first frame to last. Not only was it an excellent film, the music was enthralling. I floated out of the theater on a cloud, bewildered at how I could have denied myself such profound pleasures for so long.