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My _____ Period

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief / @retronius

I’ve been relishing lately in the feeling I get from discovery. With all the talk we’ve been having lately about giving proper reverence to the past works of jazz while still looking to the future, I want to make sure I haven’t completely understated the importance of that looking back. There’s a certain majesty in going through your ______ period.

NPR’s A Blog Supreme recently asked the question, ["How did you discover Miles Davis?"] Many of the responses involved the first Miles album you ever heard but I find it more important to think back on the time when you actually discovered Miles. What kind of person were you not only when you first heard that first album but also when you decided it’s time to delve into the whole career of who most people consider a genius.

Sure I loved that moment when I borrowed my Uncle Leo’s copy of Kind of Blue just so I could find out what all the fuss was about, but I also borrowed his copies of Amandla and Doo Bop. I wasn’t just interested in hearing one album but also in learning about the intricacies of the artist as a whole. At that formative age of 15, I leapt not only into a man’s work, but also his work in three distinctly different stages in his career and I learned to critically judge where he was and what he was doing in each of those times. I started my true music criticism through Miles. This isn’t just a one album thing, I think quite fondly of my Miles period.

The same can be said of any other musician in any other genre. Chuck Klosterman in his third book, Killing Yourself to Live, spoke quite fondly of young man’s eventual Led Zeppelin period. When I finally met Klosterman and asked for him to sign my copy of the paperback at 21, I had yet to go through my Zeppelin period. Now that time had come and gone and while I still love the work of the rambunctious Plant, Page, Bonham, and Jones, I realize that time in my life when they were the best musicians on Earth have come and gone. Yet their combination of rock and blues have shaped the way I see music today. Their interplay with genres has influenced the way that I analyze music and see their dynamic as applicable to the way that I see other genres who could use some new directions (i.e. what I do here every week).

Those times that we go through in which we discover the geniuses who have come before us are those cherished times that build who we are as people. When we pose to young people who have some fledgling interest in jazz that they should first give reverence and attention to the artists who came before and laid the foundation of the genre, it’s tasked like a homework assignment or drinking a tablespoon of cod liver oil instead of as the formative, inspiring adventure listening to music truly is.

Once again, I have to note the importance of branding. When we chastise new listeners and new musicians for not keeping the fundamentals because of a lack of reverence for their inherent importance, it doesn’t act as a magnet to the masses. But to talk about how much of a sheer joy it is to say how Duke Ellington’s Money Jungle is and how it can inspire someone to delve even deeper, that is the message we should be trying to relay.

Discovering music should be just that: discovery. Think back to those times when you find an old record collection or when you flip through the racks at a record store and relish in that one artist you heard a lot about but have yet to give a good listen. Think back on the kind of person you were when you went into your Miles period or your Led Zep period or your Hendrix period. Who were you when you first realized you loved everything Herbie Hancock made in the 1970s or when you played a lot of John Coltrane when you first chose to give him the attention you knew he deserved. There’s a merriment and wonder that comes from those times in our lives.

It’s a whole lot bigger than just that first album.

Anthony Dean-Harris is a contributing writer for [African-American Reflections] and hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on [91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio]. More of his writing can be found at his blog, [In Retrospect] and you can also [follow him on Twitter].