Elective Affinities: Introduction

We define ourselves as musicians not so much by what we play as how we develop it, and this happens in various ways. One that everyone can agree on is listening to recordings. These come to us from the past, and our relationship with records develops into a kind of personal history: not a history of when I heard a particular record, or when it was made, but a retrospective picture of how it fits into my own (past and future) development.

For many of us, this history stretches back to some of the earliest recorded music and forward almost to the present, although never quite: unless you happen to be in the studio when a recording is made, it always comes to you as a historical document.

This timeline of the music we identify with becomes a history we carry around in our heads, but it usually isn't something we actively shape and work on. But all of our musical development goes better if we reflect on it critically. Assembling and writing this history as an explicit activity may be beneficial for locating oneself in it.

I'm going to try to write a little of my own history of music. Again, this is not autobiographical: it's a history of what, taken together, I consider to be "my music". It will be partial and personal, of course. It will also be pretty diverse.

I grew up surrounded by my dad's stories of the musicians' life, and he exposed me to a fair bit of adventurous music over the years, too. But I didn't grow up in a specific musical culture. I wasn't born into jazz, or avant garde, or even rock and roll. My affinities for music have been, somehow, chosen, though not consciously or with any calculation. That's what I want these posts to reflect.

Each post will be limited to album releases (not reissues) from one specific year, and classical compositions written or premiered in that year. Sometimes such dates are a bit murky; that doesn't matter too much. The point is to describe, from a purely personal point of view, what important things were around at the time. Important to me, of course. Some of these will be records I heard much later in life, maybe quite recently; the point is that they capture something that's been with me much longer.

The lists aren't supposed to be complete, or to pay homage to great and famous records. They are little snapshots of time from the perspective of my own listening. I haven't included records I love that have little to do with my musical journey; for example, I'm preparing the first post right now which is on 1971 and Joni Mitchell's masterpiece "Ladies of the Canyon" isn't on the list. It's an immortal album, but it's not one of my elective affinities because it's far too distant from anything I can imagine ever playing.

This is an exercise I suggest you, too, undertake, at least if you've been around the block a few times. Certainly I've had enthusiasms for musics that have turned out to be passing; these won't be reflected here. I'm old enough now that I suspect the things that have stuck with me for 30 or so years of playing will probably stick for good. Each one represents something about the way I play, or would like to play in the future.

I hope these posts clarify some things for me. Maybe they'll also inspire you to look more closely at your own personal mythos of "the history of music".

[Coda: I came up with another idea after posting this. After the first post I've decided to randomly pick the year for future posts by folling a d100 to select a year from the 20th century. The extreme ends are going to be pretty weird, but that will make me think harder and dig out more stuff, which is the purpose of this whole exercise anyway.]