My Gateway Albums to Musical Satori

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John Coltrane - Impressions
John Coltrane’s Impressions (1963)(The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

SA·TO·RInoun \sə-ˈtr-ē, sä-\ refers to a sudden state of consciousness or enlightenment

People talk about ‘gateway’ drugs as precursors to the heavier, more destructive stuff. The film, Reefer Madness, depicts marijuana ruining young lives, and we’ve all heard ad nauseam that smoking pot leads to heroin addiction.

Little Richard -  Tutti Frutti
Little Richard’s “Tutti Frutti” (1955) (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

Growing up, my older brother was into classic 1950s R&B, so I listened to a lot of Chuck Berry, Bobby Bland, Chuck Miller, and Little Richard. I recall listening to the original 78 rpm Speciality Records’ release of Little Richard’s epochal “Tutti Frutti” on my dad’s huge old tube Magnavox console while my parents were out as a pivotal moment. I realized then the power of music to turn your head around fill you with sheer joy and delight.

In middle school, I was turned onto bluesman, Jimmy Reed, and then The Beatles’ early works later in high school. It was all fun stuff that I enjoyed then and still do, but it took more powerful medicine to captivate my spirit.

For once, I’d like to apply this term ‘gateway’ to something that’s more positive than its typical D.E.A. application, namely, an album or song that ignites one’s passion for music—a wish to explore it more fully and deeply. There are two albums that stick out for me as having had a seminal influence upon me: John Coltrane’s Impressions (1963), which blew my mind back when I was in high school. I remember listening to the LP sitting alone one day in my bedroom at my parents’ house. The other album was one that I discovered after moving out on my own soon after. It was one of Leonard Bernstein conducting the New York Philharmonic, doing renditions of Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune (Prelude to the Afternoon of a Fawn) and Ravel’s ballet score for Daphnis et Chloé.

Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic

Debussy and Ravel, like Erik Satie, are three French composers whose works lend themselves beautifully to musing and dreaming. These were my gateway albums, opening up whole new worlds of music to me that forever changed my life. Both led me down separate paths of utter ecstasy and enchantment, opening my senses to music as a powerful elixir.

I had—and still experience—a rush of cerebral and physical pleasure when listening to music like this. This holiday season, I’ve been listening to the dances from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, which take me on a Proustian journey to another realm of delight.

Chacun à son goût, which translates to mean “to each his own” in French. What were your gateway albums and the accompanying memories that you associate with them?

The great Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in a 1960 performance of Claude Debussy’s Prélude à l’Après-Midi d’un Faune.

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