Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Brubeck smiles...
his usual expression!
Jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck died today at age 91. Tomorrow would have been his 92nd birthday.

Brubeck was my hero when I was in my mid-to-late teens. His famous Quartet was active in those days... Paul Desmond (alto sax), Brubeck (piano), Joe Morello (drums) and Eugene Wright (bass)... and as a group they were creating the most rhythmically adventurous jazz ever heard.

Brubeck was more than just a great musician: he was a man with the courage of his convictions. Mixed-race ensembles were uncommon in those days, and Wright is African American. (I'm happy to note that Wright is still living!) Some club owners insisted Brubeck get a different (i.e., white) bass player. Brubeck always turned them down flat, no matter how famous the club or how much he wanted the gig. His terms were: "feature me; feature my bassist..." no compromise.

I could spend 10 screens full of prose and still not express why this man was in so many ways my musical hero. How many people, on the birth of their first child, write an oratorio for the occasion? But I'll let the pros write the obits, and just tell you how much I am going to miss Brubeck. There was no one else like him, and there never will be again.

R.I.P., Dave; enjoy that great jam session of the spirit!

Afterthought: In about 1965, I heard the Quartet live in concert in Houston, in the godawfulest hall ever built (and fortunately since demolished and replaced). It was my only encounter with Brubeck in person. One test of a truly great jazz ensemble is that they are often better live than in studio recordings. That was certainly true of the Brubeck Quartet. Those contrapuntal duets between Desmond and Brubeck, the ones that, while indisputably 20th-century jazz, evoke memories of music from centuries ago, are a marvel to behold in real life. They aren't memorized, because a given phrase comes out a bit different every time they play it. Some people are simply gifted at that sort of thing; the rest of us are fortunate to hear them even once.


  1. Right with ya on this one! Great tribute

    1. karmanot, of course you would be a fan of the West Coast Cool style! The fellow was still making superb recordings into his eighties; I'm very fond of "Just You; Just Me."



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