I am teaching an on-line music course to 9 students currently scattered across the globe from Vietnam to Portugal, from Maine to Texas to the island of Nantucket and places in between. To get to know each other, each student has been constructing his or her own musical history. Here’s mine.
#1 Childhood (1954-66)
… the awesome music my parents played on our stereo: West Side Story…Porgy & Bess… jazz pianist Errol Garner… Harry Belafonte… Lena Horne… Sinatra… Judy Garland at Carnegie Hall… Ray Charles.
… watching The Beatles, transfixed, on The Ed Sullivan Show and then spending my 10th birthday money on Meet the Beatles and a 45 (anyone remember 45s?) of their version of “Twist & Shout.”
… singing soprano in our church choir.
… signing up for saxophone in our elementary school marching band. My mother saying, “If I buy you this saxophone and you turn around and quit, I’ll throttle you.” Me quitting saxophone a year later…lol.
#2 Teen/College Years (1967-76)
… seeing Martha Reeves and the Vandellas (My first time seeing actual national artists I had previously heard only on the radio!) at Bowdoin College as a Hyde freshman and leaving convinced that Martha winked at me – as in, only me! – during “Dancin’ in the Streets.”
… my dad taking me NYC jazz clubbing on my 16th birthday party. At one spot, Dad sent up a request to jazz piano giant Oscar Peterson (1925-2007). During his break, Peterson came over to our table and was so impressed with my dad’s choice that he offered to play anything he wanted for the next set. (It left me thinking, Wait, my dad is actually cool?)
– developing a near religious devotion to groups like The Band, The Rolling Stones, NRBQ, Sly & The Family Stone, Steely Dan, and solo artists like Van Morrison, James Taylor, Ry Cooder, and Randy Newman. (Note: If a totalitarian state forced me to limit my listening to only one musician, I would choose Randy Newman.)
… seeing so many awesome live shows: James Brown, The Byrds, Ray Charles, Taj Mahal, Muddy Waters, J. Geils, Crosby/Stills/Nash & Young, The Beach Boys.
… getting thrown into my college freshman dorm room with 2 music nuts, one who turned me on to such jazz greats as Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, Thelonious Monk, and Duke Ellington. The other roomie and I established a spring campus talent show called “What’s Your Act?” that evolved into one of the biggest social events of the year. It also gave me my first shot at experiencing the thrill of singing in front of a live audience. (Note: To this day, those 2 nuts and I exchange music recommendations.)
#3 Early Adulthood (pre-40)
… broadening my taste out to include country (Steve Earle, Willie Nelson, Jerry Jeff Walker, Nanci Griffith) and blues (Albert Collins, Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf).
… buying a guitar and taking some lessons. Then, after making some progress with Steve Earle and John Prine covers, dropping it just like I did the saxophone. (Sorry, Mom, did it again.)
… finally seeing some of the musicians I had always wanted to see: B.B. King, Dylan, Randy Newman, Van Morrison, John Prine, Albert Collins (“The Master of the Telecaster!”), The Band.
… starting to sing a number or two during Hyde Family Weekends.
… receiving a handwritten note from Neil Young (see above) – now framed in my office – after he heard that I had played some of his music in my Government class at Hyde.
#4 Later Adulthood (post-40)
… trying to make an extra effort to emulate what my parents did for me in exposing my three kids to good music.
…writing monthly music reviews in Malcolm’s Monthly (1987-98) and Malcolm’s Blog. Once when someone asked me what qualified me to be a music critic, I replied, “I’m not a music critic. I’m a music liker. I find music I like and write about it.” Still do.
… picking up a harmonica and a great book titled Harmonica for the Musically Hopeless and sticking with it.
… more shows but now with a 2-part litmus test: it must be someone I really want to see and I gotta have good seats. Saw the Rolling Stones (twice), Bob Dylan and Van Morrison at MSG, Steely Dan, Chuck Berry on New Year’s Eve in NYC (with Pete Gregory ’89), Eric Clapton and Stevie Winwood at MSG, Springsteen, The Dukes of September (Michael McDonald/Boz Scaggs/Donald Fagen) at The Beacon in NYC, Stevie Wonder with my wife and daughters.
… opening for John Hiatt at Hyde (twice), both times doing songs by the Band: “I Don’t Wanna Hang Up My Rock & Roll Shoes” and “Ophelia.” Thanks, John, for giving me 2 nights I will never forget!
#5 Bring It!
Onward, Malcolm Gauld