Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy Birthday to Dave Brubeck - 90 Today - A Class Act

I was first introduced to Dave Brubeck’s music many years ago when he appeared on stage in London. I was a teenager at the time and I became an instant fan. I have since heard him play at the Newport, Rhode Island Jazz Festival, Tanglewood Massachusetts Jazz Weekend, the Litchfield Connecticut Jazz Festival, the Montreal Canada Jazz Festival, and in Detroit, California, and Germany.

As I write this I am wondering just how many miles he has travelled in his lifetime. He has appeared in just about every country, state and province.

Born on December 6, 1920 Dave Brubeck grew up on a 45,000-acre ranch in California, the son of a music teacher and a cattle rancher.

He and his two older brothers studied piano with their mother, the future jazz pianist initially didn't take lessons for very long. He quit when he was 11 to focus on his first love: rodeo roping. But his mother, who thought he was talented at the piano, wouldn't allow him to rope anything larger than a yearling because she didn't want his fingers to become hurt.

Brubeck resumed studying the piano after his first year of college. During those college years he had a whirlwind courtship. He had promised his mother that he would go to at least one dance with a young lady. Since he didn’t have much interest in going, he got his friends to set him up with the smartest girl they could find. As Brubeck later reminisced, his reasoning was, “If I’ve got to go to this dance, I at least want it to be interesting.” They found a smart coed named Iola Whitlock who agreed to be Brubeck’s date.

You’d think a jazzman would be crazy about dancing, but Dave and Iola spent most of the evening chatting in his car. By the time the dance was over, the couple had decided to get engaged. He and Iola have been married since 1942 and have six children. She serves as his manager, lyricist, and occasional writing partner.

Brubeck met some of the musicians with whom he'd later make history while playing in the A.S. Army Band, which took him out of Patton's force during World War II.

He performed at the first Newport Jazz Festival in 1954 and later that year Dave Brubeck's band was selected as the year's best instrumental group. That same year he became the second jazz musician ever featured on the cover of Time Magazine (the first being Louie Armstrong).

Brubeck represented something else in jazz -- a studious, serious musician and family-oriented man; he moved to Connecticut in 1960 to raise his family. He was a player who avoided the clichés of drugs and dissipation often associated with jazz musicians.

Despite his lessons as a child, he couldn't read music. His biggest hit album, "Time Out," is dedicated to that proposition, and its biggest hit, "Take Five," took its name from its unusual 5/4 time signature.

After breaking up his quartet in the 1970’s, he not only let his hair grow but he expanded his ambitions, composing orchestral and choral works. Eventually he brought back the quartet sound as well, in a group that most recently included sax player Bobby Militello, bassist Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones.

Last year he became a Kennedy Center Honoree and he was delighted at the sight of his four grown sons, Darius, Dan, Chris and Matthew, who played his music onstage at the award.

He continues to perform and compose, and has played more than 50 concerts this year alone.

Dave Brubeck, designated a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, continues to be one of the most active and popular musicians in both the jazz and classical worlds. With a career that spans over six decades, his experiments in odd time signatures, improvised counterpoint, polyrhythm and polytonality remain hallmarks of innovation. He celebrates his 90th birthday today - TCM (Turner Classic Movies) has devoted the entire daytime schedule in celebration of his birthday.

Happy birthday Mr. Brubeck from a longtime fan and admirer.

You are a class act!



Karima said...

I LOVE BRUBECK!......i have listened to all kinds of jazz for all of my life.....the first time i ever purchased some jazz was in 1960-sumthin'...i found an old Brubeck LP for $1.00 in a super market....."Take Five" was one of the tracks....i played it over and over and over again.......i couldn't get enough of it! ;-D

peacesojourner said...

As I was writing this blog I realized how fortunate we are to still have him around - he is still composing and is releasing a couple of new CD's in celebration of his 90th. His music makes me feel happy - it doesn't get any better than that :-)