My father’s love of music got to me at an early age. In his apartment he had a ‘music room’ with a reproduction of Picasso’s Three Musicians (Musicians with Masks) painting.
There was always something on the turntable, a ‘featured artist,’ and stuff I played just out of curiosity. I would get lost in the sheer variety, the crafting of the cover art, the liner notes, which I’d read while the music played. It opened the jazz and classical worlds for me, two genres that your average kid growing up in the South Bronx didn’t really have access to.
He had a particular fondness for the jazz organ of Jimmy Smith, the flute of Herbie Mann, the percussive mastery of Mongo Santamaria, and the radical balladry of Nina Simone.
What impressed me the most about my dad regarding this was his prodigious memory.
During my high school years he’d moved out to Teaneck, NJ, and I spent summers there house sitting while he was at work. There wasn’t much in the way of chores except on the weekends where I’d help with the gardening and woodworking projects, but during the week I was free to dive into the bookshelves and records most of the day.
One day I was playing Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis (Solemn Mass) because I’d never heard it before, and didn’t even know he’d written a Mass. My father walked in, listened to a few seconds of it, and identified it somewhere in the middle of the first movement.
I was impressed. To this day, I wouldn’t be able to identify that if I heard it; it’s not the sort of thing one often plays outside of those who are Beethoven aficionados, or hears played even on classical music stations. It’s a long, serious piece of music, to put it mildly, and I couldn’t say then (1977) how many times he listened to it himself, but it was often enough that he recognized it from a tiny section of audio.
As deep as his love of music was, I don’t know why he never became a musician himself; he was pretty much the kind of man who could do anything he set his mind to. But as far as I know, he never did.
The passion with which he did love it yet remains, and became a permanent part of my life. It provided an escape from the streets, a release for expressing myself, and a legacy my sons continue.
I now have most of my dad’s collection now, Missa Solemnis among them. I haven’t played it yet, but summer’s just starting…