Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
For those of you who do not take The Economist or The Week, the editorial staff at JazzProfiles thought you might find their obituaries of
Dave Brubeck, one of the seminal figures in the
development of Jazz, to be of interest.
Many readers of these pages had the good fortune to experience and appreciate
Dave Brubeck’s music.
In my case, it changed the course of my life – irrevocably.
The images that accompany the obituaries were selected by the magazines.
© -The Economist,
December 15, 2012
copyright protected; all rights reserved.
Dave Brubeck in a box was an unwise thing to
do. He'd just jump right out again, big, broad and strong, with those
horn-rimmed glasses and that crazy, slightly cross-eyed smile. Call him cool,
and he'd tell you that many of his jazz arrangements were so hot, they sizzled.
Lump him with players of white west-coast jazz, and he'd object that he felt
more black than white. Suggest he was influenced by the pelting, intellectual
strain of bebop that took over jazz in the 1940's, and he would say nope, he
didn't listen to it; he only ever wanted to do his own thing. Call him the
usher of a new jazz age, put him on the cover of Time magazine, where he landed
in 1954, and he was crestfallen. Duke Ellington deserved all that, he said, but
His contrarian ways went further. Give him a few bars of Beethoven, and he'd weave a jazz riff through it; but put him in the middle of a jazz set, and he would come up with classic counterpoint as strict as the "Goldberg Variations". Sing him a tune in C, and his left hand would play it in E flat; give him a jazz line in standard 4/4 time and he would play 5/4, 7/4, even 13/4 against it, relentlessly underpinning the adventure with big fat blocks of chords. He was a jazzman who struggled to read notation and who graduated on a wing and an ear from his college music school; and he was also, in later years, a composer of cantatas and oratorios who was proud to have written a Credo for Mozart's unfinished "Mass in C minor.”
The musicians he picked for his quartet, which dominated the popular jazz scene from 1951 to 1967, were chosen because they could break out of the box like him: Paul Desmond on feather-light, floating alto sax, Joe Morello razor-sharp and witty on drums, Eugene Wright rock-solid on bass. Their greatest success, an album called "Time Out" (1959) that sold more than 1M copies, was a collection of breezily poly tonal pieces in wild time signatures, centering on a Desmond piece called "Take Five" written in teasing 5/4, and "Blue Rondo a la Turk", devised by Mr. Brubeck after hearing street musicians playing in 9/8 in Istanbul. These two pieces alone consolidated the quartet's fame on campuses and in clubs all over
; but Columbia Records refused to release
the album for a year, just baffled, said Mr. Brubeck impatiently, by the fact
that it broke so many rules. It did, but hey, it sounded good. America
Whenever he sat down at the piano-an instrument as satisfying, to him, as a whole orchestra-his aim was to get somewhere he had never got before. It didn't matter how tired he was, how beat-up he felt. He wanted to be so inspired in his explorations that he would get beyond himself. He liked to quote Louis Armstrong, who once told a woman who asked what he thought about as he played: "Lady, if I told you, your mind would explode." In his own words, he played dangerously, prepared to make any number of mistakes in order to create something he had never created before.
Horsebeat and heartbeat
Several people had set him on this path. His mother had first taught him piano when he preferred to be a rodeo-roper; her rippling playing of Chopin round the house he remembered in a piece called "Thank You". His platoon commander in 1944, having heard him doodling on a piano, kept him away from the front line. And Darius Milhaud, his teacher after the war, taught him to see jazz as the natural idiom of
and the music of free men. Mr. Brubeck
believed seriously in jazz as a force for democracy: in post-Nazi Germany, in
the Soviet Union, in the fragile post-war world (where he toured on behalf of
the State Department) and in America's South, where he insisted on performing
with his black bassist and, when he could, pushed him to the front of the
Yet his mission was never to make jazz freer or more popular; it was to make music, pure and simple, any way he could. He sang his first polyrhythms against the steady trot of his horse as he rode round the 45,000 acres near
, where his father managed cattle. In high
school, playing at rough miners' dances in the foothills of the Sierras, he
would riskily "screw up the shuffle" by adding triplets to it. He
wrote on the road, dreaming up "Un-square Dance" (in 7/4) while
driving to New York, and composing "The Duke", his tribute to
Ellington, against the beating windscreen wipers of his car. All this, with his
use of folk songs and hymns and blues and birdcalls, his little snatches of
homage to George Gershwin or Aaron Copland, and the freight-train urging of his
playing, gave his jazz a flavour less of smoky dives than of open skies and
plains. Concord, California
Critics attacked him for getting rich from it. He said he had never wanted more than the union scale. They said he was too "European", too college-focused, that his music couldn't be danced to and hadn't got swing; he pointed out the happy feet tapping at his concerts, and the number of records he sold. Above all they found it hard to believe that the most successful jazz in America was being played by a family man, a laid-back Californian, modest, gentle and open, who would happily have been a rancher all his days-except that he couldn't live without performing, because the rhythm of jazz, under all his extrapolation and exploration, was, he had discovered, the rhythm of his heart. •”
© -The Week,
December 21, 2012
copyright protected; all rights reserved.
The Pianist Who Reshaped The Rhythms of Jazz
“By the jazz world's wild standards,
Dave Brubeck was a total square. He didn't smoke or take drugs, and he
limited himself to one martini before dinner. The pianist favored expressions
like "baloney" and "you bet" over coarser alternatives. But
when it came to music, Brubeck was anything but conventional. He experimented
with challenging time signatures on tracks like "Take Five" and ran
through all 12 keys on "The Duke," winning the respect of his
harder-living contemporaries. On tour in the in the 1950s, stride pianist Willie
"The Lion" Smith was asked by a reporter, "Isn't it true that no
white man can play jazz?" Smith gestured toward Brubeck and replied,
"I'd like you to meet my son." Netherlands
Nothing in Brubeck's background suggested that he was destined to be a jazz great. He grew up on the cattle ranch his father managed in northern
, said NBCNews.com.
His mother, a classically trained pianist, banned her three sons from listening
to the radio, believing they should play music if they wanted to hear it. The
young Brubeck quickly mastered the piano, learning mostly by ear because he was
born cross-eyed and had trouble reading music. Brubeck thought his future lay
in ranching and had to be prodded to go to college, where at first he studied
veterinary medicine. But he quickly "became smitten with jazz," said
the Associated Press, and switched his major to music. California
After graduating in 1942, Brubeck enrolled in the Army as an infantryman, only to be pulled from frontline duty and given a military band to lead. There he met Paul Desmond, who would become Brubeck's most important musical partner. The alto saxophonist "was a perfect foil; his lovely impassive tone was as ethereal as Brubeck's style was densely chorded," said The New York Times. Brubeck led a series of bands after being demobilized, and in 1951 he invited Desmond to join the
Dave Brubeck Quartet. The group's smooth West Coast sound proved a
hit on college campuses, and "with the release of Time Out in 1959, Brubeck
had an unexpected best seller," said The
Washington Post. It became the first jazz LP to sell more than a million
copies, even though it included complex tunes like "Blue Rondo a la
Turk." The piece is in 9/8 time—nine beats to the measure instead of the
customary four beats—and blended Turkish folk rhythms with jazz and Mozart.
This success didn't "come without reservations in the jazz world," said The Guardian (
). Some critics suggested that Brubeck only
topped the charts because he was white, even though the pianist was a
high-profile civil rights activist. He refused to play any venue that barred
black musicians—his bassist, Gene Wright, was black—and he turned down a 1958
tour of U.K. when told that he could only perform with
an all-white band. Brubeck always believed that race was irrelevant to music,
explaining that jazz was based on the universal rhythm of the human heart.
"It's the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat," he said.
"It's the first thing you hear when you're born—or before you're born— and
it's the last thing you hear."” South Africa
As you can see from the following video montage,
Dave made a lot of records.
One of my favorites is Jazz Impressions of the
. From it, I have selected United States Dave’s composition Ode to A Cowboy as the audio track to the video.
The tune seemed a fitting tribute to
Dave as his days of riding the range as a young man were perhaps the
place where the polyrhythms he was so fond of may have first entered his mind.