People aren’t sure what to think when they see me jamming to Earth Wind & Fire. But I didn’t grow up listening to jazz. Instead I lived in a house where mainly symphonic LPs emanated from a piece of furniture in the living room known as a Zenith console stereo. And when the turntable wasn’t spinning, my toddler twin brother and I would catch more than an occasional glimpse of Dick Clark’s American Bandstand from the playpen we shared that had a clear view of our black-and-white babysitter. These were my introductions to music, and possibly they explain why still, in addition to jazz, I listen to pop and orchestral music.
I love a fabulously infectious pop song, but for the most part I live, breathe and eat jazz. But whether pop or jazz, there’s nothing quite like the first time. For instance, I remember the first time I heard The Beatles. I was 6 years old, listening to Cousin Brucie spinning 45s out of New York City on a nine-volt battery-powered transistor radio — the primary means through which new music was discovered in the ’60s. The genius of the Fab Four heavily influenced my view of music and the world. I didn’t know anything about them, but it’s safe to say — and certainly I’m not alone in saying this — that their music opened my mind in certain ways. As the ’60s turned into the ’70s, I began to experience those sorts of musical epiphanies more with jazz than with pop.
When I was a poor college student, searching for new mind-opening music, I befriended a record shop manager who would encourage me to spend my “hard-earned” financial aid on the budget-priced records in the promo bin, which was where promotional LPs that radio stations sold to record stores were kept. There I discovered Lee Ritenour, Joanne Brackeen, Christopher Cross, Stanley Turrentine, Lauren Wood, Quincy Jones, Freddie Hubbard, Angela Bofill, George Duke and many other artists. Those acquisitions expanded my discography while the music and liner notes broadened my vocabulary. Oddly, I remember each first time with a new record. By the late ’70s, I had acquired quite an eclectic LP collection. By then radio played no role in my music life. Instead I discovered new music by pegging standout players on any given album and then acquiring other recordings on which they appeared. I would spend days searching for and selecting tracks to fill 90-minute cassette tapes that I recorded for my friends and me. (Notoriously, these tapes contained “the best music never heard before!”) Google and blank CDs would have saved me a lot of time back then.
As some of you know, JAZZIZ’s genesis in the early ’80s reflected my strange little obsession to turn friends on to new music. Almost 30 years later, we still do this at the magazine, never so deliberatively as in our annual “Critics’ Choice” issue and on their accompanying CDs. In those issues — and this is one of them — our editors and critics sift through their stacks of CDs and let you know which albums, in their best estimation, rise to the top. You’ll notice that some have favorite artists that always seem to wind up on their lists. And I’m as guilty as any of them, rationalizing my repetition by choosing to believe that this is how our brains work, with a synapse that fires each time our favorite artist releases a new record — just like it did the first time.
—Michael Fagien (Founder, Editor and Publisher of JAZZIZ)