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10 Albums that Influenced Me

Updated: Jul 16, 2020

  1. Cecil Taylor - Silent Tongues

  2. Pat Metheny - Bright Size Life

  3. John Coltrane - Ascension

  4. George Szell & The Cleveland Orchestra - Beethoven Symphony No. 9 (1974)

  5. John Williams Plays Bach - The Complete Music on Guitar

  6. Arturo Toscanini - The NBC Live Recordings

  7. Pablo Casals: Bach - 3 Viola da Gamba Sonatas

  8. Kanye West - Yeezus

  9. Bjork - Biophillia

  10. XUPSTAR - Tribute to Sun Ra

Cecil Taylor - Silent Tongues

Cecil Taylor inspired me greatly with his commitment to free improvisation and his own unique elusive method of composing for improvisers. I´ll never forget the mesmerized feeling that came over me when I first heard a live Cecil Taylor recording. I heard it in high school. It was a rare moment where I was impressed with what music could be. As if I said, out loud, "we can do this?" What kind of music is this album, really? It is part expressionistic, part impressionistic, modern, folk? It is like a picasso painting. It is like a large expressionist building. It is emotional. It is full of humor. It´s difficult to pin down. It´s difficult to listen to. Cecil Taylor was giving himself permission to break the rules as early as the 50s. He was ridiculed for it. He was dismissed. The courage it takes to break the imaginary rules we impose on ourselves is a passion of mine. Cecil Taylor gives me courage. When I composed my album, Jazz Booty, I thought of Cecil Taylor all the time. He is by far my favorite and most influential musician!

Pat Metheny - Bright Size Life

I often think about Pat Metheny and Cecil Taylor, together. I think about how I like the same thing in both of them - their individualism. Pat Metheny, a jazz musician, has been committed to creating his own compositions, his own bands and groups, his own language. Metheny´s language is playful, happy, child-like. It is in no way "cool" or "hip". This is precisely why I like it. He changed for no one. He took that journey that all great artists take - the one which leads deep into their own ideas and tastes. I think we have to mine our own treasure chests and hide no single idea away because we think it doesn´t fit the standards imposed on us from the outside. Metheny was not as radical as Taylor, and certainly didn´t receive as much backlash, yet he was every bit as honest.

John Coltrane - Ascension

I was debating whether to include this or Ornette Coleman´s album entitled, Free Jazz. Both feature a large ensemble of improvisors in a lengthy album lenght improvisation. When I was studying at the Jazz pre-college program at the Manhattan School of Music, I wrote about Ascension for my music history class. Listening to the entire album is an exhilarating experience. I remember having it in my earphones and riding the subways of New York City, allowing that wall of sound to take me over. I´m at a loss for words when it comes to this album, however. It is a large assembly of improvisers and features moments of group improvisation with solos from each of them. The lineup includes Freddie Hubbard, Dewey Johnson, Marion Brown, John Tchicai, John Coltrane, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, McCoy Tyner, Art Davis, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones. It is certainly a fascinating moment in Jazz history.

George Szell & The Cleveland Orchestra - Beethoven Symphony No. 9

When I studied with Orin O´Brien of the New York Philharmonic, I learned that not all orchestras and not all conductors are the same. This is important for music students to know when studying recordings. My favorite recordings from the Beethoven Symphonies come from George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. One cannot begin to say anything about Beethoven without beginning to say too much. This is not the CD to miss when engaging with this list!

John Williams Plays Bach - The Complete Music on Guitar

As a young guitarist, this was probably the first recording of classical music that I owned. It´s an album that has been with me the longest - meaning I still listen to it today. Williams´ Bach is pristine. I think of his accuracy like clean windows which let the light in, or a prism from which the clear glass radiates into a variety of colors. The prelude of the E-minor Lute Suite still gives me chills!

Arturo Toscanini - The NBC Live Recordings

Toscanini is like Count Basie - the ensemble is so rhythmic and so together, everything they play is powerful and dramatic. The NBC orchestra is a marvelous thing to listen to and observe. In the same spirit as my thoughts on George Szell.

Pablo Casals: Bach - 3 Viola da Gamba Sonatas

I learned about Baroque performance practice as a young musician. The main taboo was vibrato - "no vibrato!" With a recommendation from a professor, I began to read Richard Taruskin´s polemics. Perhaps the baroque performance practice of today is more new age than we think, perhaps they didn´t play so flat as is suggested. Perhaps we are celelbrating our own aesthetics. These thoughts put my defenses down and I began listening to baroque performances of 20th century musicians like Pablo Casals. I never looked back! For me, Bach never sounded so authentic.

Kanye West - Yeezus

It´s one of those albums where I remember where I was when I first heard it. Part laughing and part impressed. I like the blend of styles, and West´s ability to break conventions and expectations with each song. Hip-hop is a pleasure of mine and for me this is one of those powerful examples of a genre breaking at the seems - half in the world of yesterday and half in the world of tomorrow. Kanye West, of course, full of contradictions and mediocrities, yet an interesting character nonetheless.

Bjork - Biophillia

Freedom and originality are important to me. Thus, a fan of Bjork. The Biophilia project which is blend of technology and biology themes was the first Bjork project I engaged with. I even saw the tour, live with a choir! I can´t say anything about Bjork other than to recommend her!

XUPSTAR.COM - Tribute to Sun Ra

XUPSTAR.COM is a noise and art duo I´m involved in. Our recordings were a lot of fun to make. I think we have hundreds of hours of material. We would improvise with previous recordings of ourselves and just began compounding music. I love this project and I have to include it here!


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