Dave Brubeck Explained

David Warren Brubeck
Img Capt:Dave Brubeck in March 2008.
Img Size:200
Birth Name:David Warren Brubeck
Born:6 December 1920
Origin:Concord, California, United States
Cool jazz
West Coast jazz
Third stream
Associated Acts:Dave Brubeck Quartet
Associated Artists:Paul Desmond
Gerry Mulligan
Joe Morello
Eugene Wright

David Warren Brubeck (born December 6, 1920 in Concord, California[1]), better known as Dave Brubeck, is an American jazz pianist. Regarded as a jazz icon, he has written a number of jazz standards, including "In Your Own Sweet Way" and "The Duke". Brubeck's style ranges from refined to bombastic, reflecting his mother's attempts at classical training and his improvisational skills. His music is known for employing unusual time signatures, and superimposing contrasting rhythms, meters, and tonalities.

His long-time musical partner, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, wrote the Dave Brubeck Quartet's most famous piece, "Take Five", which is in 5/4 time and has endured as a jazz classic. Brubeck experimented with time signatures through much of his career, recording "Pick Up Sticks" in 6/4, "Unsquare Dance" in 7/4, and "Blue Rondo à la Turk" in 9/8. He is also a respected composer of orchestral and sacred music, and wrote soundtracks for television such as Mr. Broadway and the animated miniseries "This Is America, Charlie Brown".

Early life and career

Brubeck's father was a cattle rancher, and his mother, who had studied piano in England and intended to become a concert pianist, taught piano for extra money. Brubeck did not originally intend to become a musician (his two older brothers, Henry and Howard, were already on that track), but took lessons from his mother. He could not read sheet music during these early lessons, attributing this difficulty to poor eyesight, but "faked" his way through, well enough that this deficiency went mostly unnoticed.[2]

Intending to work with his father on their ranch, Brubeck entered the College of the Pacific (now the University of the Pacific) intending to be a veterinarian, but transferred thanks to the urging of the head of zoology, Dr. Arnold, who told him "Brubeck, your mind's not here. It's across the lawn in the conservatory. Please go there. Stop wasting my time and yours."[3] Later, Brubeck was nearly expelled when one of his professors discovered that he could not read music. Several of his professors came forward, arguing that his ability with counterpoint and harmony more than compensated. The college was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and only agreed to let Brubeck graduate once he promised never to teach piano.[4]

After graduating in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the army and served overseas in George Patton's Third Army during the Battle of the Bulge. While serving as a rifleman, Brubeck met Paul Desmond in early 1944.[5] He played in a band, quickly integrating it and gaining both popularity and deference. He returned to college after serving nearly four years in the army, this time attending Mills College and studying under Darius Milhaud, who encouraged him to study fugue and orchestration but not classical piano.

After completing his studies under Milhaud, Brubeck helped found Berkeley, California's Fantasy Records. He worked with an octet (the recording bears his name only because Brubeck was the most well-known member at the time), and later a trio which included Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty. The trio eventually became a quartet with Paul Desmond. Highly experimental, the group made few recordings and got even fewer paying jobs. A bit discouraged, Brubeck started a trio with two of the members, not including Desmond, who had a band of his own, and spent several years playing nothing but jazz standards.[6]

The Dave Brubeck Quartet era

Following a near-fatal swimming accident which incapacitated him for several months, Brubeck organized The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, with Desmond on saxophone. They took up a long residency at San Francisco's Black Hawk nightclub and gained great popularity touring college campuses, recording a series of albums with such titles as Jazz at Oberlin (1953), Jazz at College of the Pacific (1953), and Brubeck's debut on Columbia Records, Jazz Goes to College (1954). In that same year, he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, the second jazz musician to be so honored (the first was Louis Armstrong on February 21, 1949[7]).

Early bassists for the group included Ron Crotty, Bob Bates, and Bob's brother Norman Bates; Lloyd Davis and Joe Dodge held the drum chair. In 1956, Brubeck hired Joe Morello, who had been working with Marian McPartland; Morello's presence made possible the rhythmic experiments that were to come. In 1958 Eugene Wright joined for the group's U.S. State Department tour of Europe and Asia; Wright would become a permanent member in 1959, making the "classic" Quartet's personnel complete.

Wright is African-American; in the late 1950s and early 1960s Brubeck canceled several concerts because the club owners or hall managers resisted the idea of an integrated band on their stages. He also canceled a television appearance when he found out that the producers intended to keep Wright off-camera.

In 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded Time Out, an album their label was enthusiastic about but nonetheless hesitant to release. Featuring the album art of Neil Fujita, the album contained all original compositions, almost none of which were in common time. Nonetheless, on the strength of these unusual time signatures (the album included "Take Five", "Blue Rondo à la Turk", and "Three To Get Ready"), it quickly went platinum.

During this time, Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola were developing a jazz musical, The Real Ambassadors, which was based in part on experiences they and their colleagues had during foreign tours on behalf of the U.S. State Department. The soundtrack album, which featured Louis Armstrong, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross, and Carmen McRae was recorded in 1961, and the musical itself was performed at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival.

The quartet followed up the success of Time Out with several more albums in the same vein, including Time Further Out: Miro Reflections (1961), Countdown: Time in Outer Space (dedicated to John Glenn) (1962), Time Changes (1963), and Time In (1965). These albums were also known for using contemporary paintings as cover art, featuring the work of Joan Miró on Time Further Out, Franz Kline on Time in Outer Space, and Sam Francis on Time Changes, though the fifth album, Time In, did not feature an artist's work.

A high point for the group was their classic 1963 live album At Carnegie Hall, described by critic Richard Palmer as "arguably Dave Brubeck's greatest concert".

Apart from the Jazz Goes to College and the 'Time' series, Brubeck recorded several records featuring his compositions based on the group's travels, and the local music they encountered. Jazz Impressions of the USA (1956, Morello's debut with the group), Jazz Impressions of Eurasia (1958), Jazz Impressions of Japan (1964), and Jazz Impressions of New York (1964) are less well-known albums, but all are brilliant examples of the quartet's studio work, and they produced Brubeck standards such as "Summer Song," "Brandenburg Gate," "Koto Song," and "Theme From Mr. Broadway".

In 1961 Dave Brubeck appeared briefly in the British Jazz/Beat film "All Night Long" starring Patrick McGoohan and Richard Attenborough. Dave Brubeck is listed in the film's credits playing himself and is seen playing piano in one or more scenes which include closeups of his playing style.

In the early 1960s Dave Brubeck was the program director of WJZZ-FM radio (now WEZN). He achieved his vision of an all jazz format radio station along with his friend and neighbor John E. Metts, one of the first African Americans in senior radio management.

In 1964, Brubeck produced the theme song for Craig Stevens's CBS drama series, Mr. Broadway.

The final studio album for Columbia by the Desmond/Wright/Morello quartet was Anything Goes (1966) featuring Cole Porter songs. A few concert recordings followed, and The Last Time We Saw Paris (1967) was the "Classic" Quartet's swansong.

Later career

Brubeck's disbanding of the Quartet at the end of 1967 allowed him more time to compose the longer, extended orchestral and choral works that were occupying his attention. February 1968 saw the premiere of The Light in the Wilderness for baritone solo, choir, organ, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel, and Brubeck improvising on certain themes within. The piece is an oratorio on Christ's teachings. The next year, Brubeck produced The Gates of Justice, a cantata mixing Biblical scripture with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr..

Further works followed, including the 1971 cantata Truth Is Fallen, dedicated to the memory of the Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings of May 1970. The work was premiered in Midland, Michigan on May 1, 1971 and released on LP in 1972.[8]

Of course, Brubeck's jazz playing did not cease. He was quickly prevailed upon by Newport Jazz Festival producer George Wein to tour with Gerry Mulligan. A Brubeck "Trio" was soon formed: Jack Six on bass, and Alan Dawson on drums. From 1968 until 1973, The Dave Brubeck Trio featuring Gerry Mulligan performed extensively, releasing several concert albums (including one with guest Desmond) and one studio album.

In 1973 Brubeck formed another group with three of his sons, Darius on keyboards, Dan on drums, and Chris on electric bass or bass trombone. This group often included Perry Robinson, clarinet, and Jerry Bergonzi, saxophone. Brubeck would record and tour with this "Two Generations of Brubeck" group until 1978.

Brubeck and Desmond recorded an album of duets in 1975, then the Classic Quartet reassembled for a 25th anniversary reunion in 1976. Desmond died in 1977.

Brubeck's Quartet has remained vital, a primary creative outlet for the pianist. Bergonzi became a member and remained with the band until 1982. This version featured Chris Brubeck, and Randy Jones on drums. Jones joined in 1979 and is still with the band after almost 30 years. Replacing Bergonzi was Brubeck's old friend Bill Smith, who knew Brubeck at Mills College and was a member of Brubeck's Octet in the late 1940s; he remained in the group through the '80s and recorded with it off and on until 1995. The best recording of this Smith/Brubeck/Jones Quartet is probably their remarkable Moscow Night concert of 1987, released on Concord Records.

The Quartet currently includes alto saxophonist and flautist Bobby Militello, bassist Michael Moore (who replaced Alec Dankworth), and Randy Jones.

In 1994, Brubeck was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.

Today, Brubeck continues to write new works, including orchestral and ballet scores, has recently worked extensively with the London Symphony Orchestra, and tours about 80 cities each year.

At the 49th Monterey Jazz Festival in September 2006, Brubeck debuted his commissioned work, Cannery Row Suite, a jazz opera drawn from the characters in John Steinbeck's American classic writing about Monterey's roots as a sardine fishing and packing town. Iola (née Whitlock), Brubeck's wife since 1942, is his personal secretary, manager and lyricist, and co-authored the Cannery Row Suite with Dave. His performance of this as well as a number of jazz standards with his current quartet was the buzz of the Festival (an event Brubeck helped launch in 1958).

Personal life

Four of Brubeck's six children are professional musicians. Darius, the eldest, is an accomplished pianist, producer, educator and performer. Dan is a renowned percussionist, Chris is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. Matthew, the youngest, is a versatile cellist with an impressive list of composing and performance credits. Brubeck's children often join with him in concerts and in the recording studio.

Brubeck believed the casualties of World War II contradicted the Ten Commandments, and the war evoked a spiritual awakening. He became a Catholic in 1980, shortly after completing the Mass To Hope which had been commissioned by Ed Murray, editor of the national Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor. Although he had spiritual interests before then he said, "I didn't convert to Catholicism, because I wasn't anything to convert from. I just joined the Catholic Church."[9] In 1996, he received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 2006, Brubeck was awarded the University of Notre Dame's Laetare Medal, the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics, during the University's Commencement. He performed "Travellin' Blues" for the graduating class of 2006.

Brubeck founded the Brubeck Institute with his wife at their alma mater, the University of the Pacific in 2000. What began as a special archive, consisting of the personal document collection of the Brubecks has since expanded to provide fellowships and educational opportunities in jazz for students.[10]

On April 8, 2008 US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice presented Brubeck with a "Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy" for offering an American "vision of hope, opportunity and freedom" through his music. "As a little girl I grew up on the sounds of Dave Brubeck because my dad was your biggest fan," said Rice.[11] The State Department said in a statement that "as a pianist, composer, cultural emissary and educator, Dave Brubeck's life's work exemplifies the best of America's cultural diplomacy." At the ceremony Brubeck played a brief recital for the audience at the State Department. "I want to thank all of you because this honor is something that I never expected. Now I am going to play a cold piano with cold hands," Brubeck stated.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver announced on May 28, 2008 that Brubeck will be inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts. The induction ceremony took place December 10th and he was inducted alongside 11 other legendary Californians.


Primary Sources

External links

Notes and References

  1. http://www.ci.concord.ca.us/about/citynews/releases/2006/05-04-06-brubeck.htm Reception honors Concord native son, jazz great Dave Brubeck
  2. http://www.wnyc.org/music/articles/32460 WNYC - Music - An Hour With Dave Brubeck
  3. It's About Time: The Dave Brubeck Story, by Fred M. Hall.
  4. http://www.pbs.org/brubeck/theMan/cowboyToJazzman.htm PBS - Rediscovering Dave Brubeck
  5. Liner notes to the album "25th Anniversary Reunion", by "The Dave Brubeck Quartet".
  6. http://www.downbeat.com/artists/window.asp?action=new&aid=143&aname=Dave+Brubeck Down Beat Artists Profile
  7. http://www.time.com/time/covers/0,16641,19490221,00.html TIME Magazine Cover: Louis Armstrong - Feb. 21, 1949
  8. http://composersdatebook.publicradio.org/listings/datebook_20020501.shtml Composers Datebook: 5/01/02-5/04/02
  9. http://www.pbs.org/brubeck/theMusic/brubeckRediscovers.htm PBS - Rediscovering Dave Brubeck
  10. http://web.pacific.edu/x19743.xml Brubeck Summer Jazz Colony - University of the Pacific
  11. http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/news.php?id=17963 All About Jazz. "Whatever Happened to Cultural Diplomacy?" April 19, 2008.
  12. http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5h9S-4CZPAlkLrj9sBxFoDZ5YJl-w AFP. "Jazz great Brubeck wins US public diplomacy award" April 8, 2008.