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“People who think jazz has to swing to be any good will hate this record. Dave Brubeck’s playing never raises the temperature. So many of the tracks are out of or only just in tempo that their status as jazz does become debatable. Yet it would be pedantic to quibble too much. Brubeck thinks within the jazz idiom, even if his work exploits devices from other musical fields. His attitude is carefully explained in the note he has written on the sleeve. … In some ways (although he is a much lesser musician [!!]) Brubeck reminds me of Thelonious Monk; both have difficulty in articulating their ideas, both convey a striking sense of urgency.”
- Charles Fox, The Gramophone, Jazz and Swing Reviews, January 1957
“Both in 1956 and in the 1990s and 2000s, Brubeck saw his solo albums as an opportunity to speak very directly to his audience, a mood that Brubeck Plays Brubeck established from the very beginning. …
Often reflective and contemplative in mood, stalked by undercurrents of melancholic rumination (par for the course for a pianist in his seventies and eighties), this is Brubeck leading us directly inside the quiddity of his art, allowing us to judge how far his music had evolved since those bold steps recorded in a student practice room.”
- Philip Clark, Dave Brubeck A Life in Time
“I think Clark's chapter on Dave's piano playing is the best in the book, full of moments of recognition and mild surprise at how it all hangs together.”
- Darius Brubeck, Facebook response, Feb. 6, 2020
The above FB response from Darius Brubeck was elicited by a posting to my page in which I stated that a close reading of the sections in Philip Clark’s recently published biography - Dave Brubeck A Life in Time - prompted me to re-listen to Brubeck’s solo piano recordings keeping his comments and observations in mind. Because of the uniqueness of many of Clark’s insights, it was almost like listening to these recordings for the first time.
Dave’s music is so synonymous with a quartet setting that his skills as a solo player are often overlooked, if they are considered at all.
Here are the relevant sections from Clark’s Bru Bio.
“The relationship between a musician and his piano has been at the very core of this book, and 1942 is a good starting point from which to retrace our steps forward through time, because the history of Brubeck's solo piano recordings throw illuminating, and in some cases unlikely, light on the fabric and inner workings of his playing.
Partly it's the absence of any solo albums for nearly forty years that is so very intriguing. Brubeck Plays Brubeck, his first solo album, was released in 1956 on Columbia, between the quartet records Jazz: Red Hot and Cool and Jazz Impressions of the USA. Its follow-up, Dave Brubeck Plays and Plays and Plays, was rejected by Columbia and all but disappeared off the radar when it was issued on Fantasy in 1957. The occasional solo track (such as "Home at Last" from Jazz Impressions of the USA) dropped into a quartet album aside, it would be thirty-seven years before Brubeck sat down, in 1994, in the studio of the Performing Arts Center at the State University of New York, Purchase, to record Just You, Just Me, a solo album that begat a chain of sequels: One Alone (2000), Private Brubeck Remembers (2004), Indian Summer (2006) — and the stocking-filling A Dave Brubeck Christmas (1996).
Often reflective and contemplative in mood, stalked by undercurrents of melancholic rumination (par for the course for a pianist in his seventies and eighties), this is Brubeck leading us directly inside the quiddity of his art, allowing us to judge how far his music had evolved since those bold steps recorded in a student practice room.
Brubeck, aware of the historical echoes, binds his albums together across the decades. "Weep No More," the ballad he wrote in 1945, opens the B side of Brubeck Plays Brubeck and is revived on One Alone, and again on the World War II-themed Private Brubeck Remembers. Victor Herbert's "Indian Summer," which featured on Plays and Plays and Plays, gives the eighty-seven-year-old Brubeck the title track of his 2007 album; and Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To," also featured on Dave Brubeck Plays and Plays and Plays, becomes the emotional hub of Private Brubeck Remembers.
The relentless, youthful optimism that pervades both 1950s solo records contrasts sharply with the later records, and Brubeck Plays Brubeck (a program of original compositions) and Dave Brubeck Plays and Plays and Plays (largely standards) feel like a complementary pair, but history's favoring one over the other has obscured the. full picture. The earlier album had the advantage of being pushed by the Columbia publicity department, and its cause was aided and abetted by Miles Davis's cherry-picking two tracks to record. "In Your Own Sweet Way" appeared on the Miles Davis Quintet album Workin' later in 1956, while Gil Evans would dress "The Duke" in sumptuous orchestral colors on Miles Ahead in 1957 (during which Dave reminisced with Gil about his first drummer, Henry Brubeck).
Both in 1956 and in the 1990s and 2000s, Brubeck saw his solo albums as an opportunity to speak very directly to his audience, a mood that Brubeck Plays Brubeck established from the very beginning.
The album was recorded at home, on Brubeck's own piano on Heartwood Drive, Oakland, on an Ampex tape recorder that he operated himself. He also communicated directly with the audience in, in place of a conventional liner note, a professorial think piece that spoke with candor about his approach to improvisation and his belief that instrumental technique in jazz cannot, and must not, be divorced from the processes of improvisation — pre-echoing thoughts about the emotional immediacy of improvisation that fed into "The Beat Heard 'Round the World," the article published under his name in the New York Times Magazine m the aftermath of his 1958 State Department tour.
Brubeck outlined "three basic categories or levels of creativity in jazz." An ideal state of improvisational grace is reached when an "effortless flow of new material" springs from the subconscious — "the performer at this level has neither desire nor need for a preconceived pattern because he knows that the music comes from a source of infinite imagination and limitless variety." But when that blissful state of creation hovers stubbornly out of reach, improvising musicians might hope to produce "an imaginative performance interspersed with 'quotes' (either personal or derivative) which intrude like the human ego into the flow of creative ideas" — and when even that spark of inspiration refuses to rise to the occasion, jazz musicians typically fall back on "backlog repertoire, in which runs and patterns, cadences and progressions are worked out to meet each situation."
The jazz musician who relies on that safety net of pre-learned patterns might, Brubeck considered, achieve technical perfection and swing relentlessly, but their playing "will lack vital involvement with the moment of creation." But harness that moment of creation properly and a soloist can "out-swing, out-create, out-perform any of the other categories."
As Charles Mingus so insightfully recognized during his exchange with Miles Davis in the DownBeat magazine letters page, Brubeck's concept of swing was intimately tied to the exuberance of any moment; never a ready-made rhythmic reflex. Brubeck was up-front about the rationale behind Brubeck Plays Brubeck: "I have tried to maintain the standards of creative experience contained in category 1," he said, before asking listeners to judge whether he needed to default to categories two or three.
Brubeck affirmed a clear and mutually reinforcing relationship between improvisation, piano technique, and emotion. "I believe the true lover of jazz would prefer to experience the same emotions as the artist when an idea is first discovered," he wrote, later adding, "Improvisation, to me, is the core of jazz. Because I believe this, my style of piano is one shaped primarily by the material, or ideas which I am attempting to express— not by a system or a search for an identifying' sound.'"A telling example of how Brubeck's style of piano was shaped by material is found in his relationship with stride piano and boogie-woogie. Putting the thing itself—and "I've Found a New Baby'' demonstrated how hardwired 1920s and '30s piano styles were in Brubeck—up against ripples of bitonal brawn created something new, the need to discover fresh material overriding any desire to simply replicate the style.
His knack of upending the predominant mood music of a solo by abruptly asserting the precise opposite character, mood, texture, or flow of energy, was also about the unfolding of his material dictating the shape of an improvisation, rather than relying on dependable narrative arcs. Two apparently incompatible or unrelated types of material spontaneously colliding could not usually be expressed through an off-the-rack technique, and Brubeck's ideas about improvisation, closely allied to his compositional mind-set, did not always lead to a place where "swing" was a clear-cut concept. "I am aware that I have become a controversial figure in jazz," he noted, as he listed some entirely contradictory critiques of his playing from recent reviews — critics variously described his work as "cerebral" and "emotional"; suggested that he played with the machismo intensity of a "pile driver" while also creating "delicate well-constructed lines"; he was an important "contributor" to jazz who had also "defiled" the music — and Brubeck was happy to embrace all these descriptors "at specific moments, in specific tunes, on a specific night of performance."
Brubeck's essay articulated, as a matter of faith, the moral responsibility that jazz musicians had to nurture the tradition of improvisation — the attitude a jazz musician took toward improvisation defined their art beyond style or technique. When Jelly Roll Morton, the New Orleans huckster and composer of genius and self-proclaimed "inventor of jazz," told the pioneering ethnomusicologist and field recordist Alan Lomax that "ragtime is a certain type of syncopation and only certain tunes can be played in that idea [but] jazz is a style that can be applied to any type of tune,'" he was explaining that ragtime had a formal structure and not playing "that certain type of syncopation" meant that you were not playing authentic ragtime. But jazz was free to draw upon, and fuse with, any available material, including ragtime — and the blues, and opera, and marching band music — that could be developed compositionally and through improvisation. Jazz was a verb, a doing word, something you did to musical material. [Emphasis, mine.]
Brubeck went on to offer a neat summary of the distinction between composition and improvisation that Igor Stravinsky outlined in his book Poetics of Music. Stravinsky's idea was that composition equaled "selective improvisation" and "my freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles [because] whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength [and] the more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one's self of the chains that shackle the spirit."' From this Brubeck concluded that "selective improvisation" accords "the element of contemplation, a higher degree of selectivity, and consequently an organically more intricate, and . . . distilled form of musical expression." The pieces on Brubeck Plays Brubeck are sketches, he said — "a skeletal framework upon which to improvise, to express a mood or emotion or stimulate musical ideas." While not autonomous compositions as Stravinsky would have understood the term, they were more compositionally integrated than the model of "a new melody superimposed over the old 'easy-to-jam-on' chord changes."
But having built Stravinsky's ideas up, Brubeck added an insistent jazzman's caveat. "However, I wish to emphasize there are moments of creation when all the contemplative time in history could not alter or refine the initial idea to make it any more eloquent or meaningful. In improvisation these rare moments are shared with the listener at the time of their inception. The
idea, the creation, and the reception' occur in one inspired moment of direct communication," Jazz has drawn liberally on classical music, but equally "jazz has revived the almost lost art of improvisation and has acted as a revitalizing force in classical music because of its spontaneity and closeness to basic human emotions."
Expressing confidence that Brubeck Plays Brubeck — and by extension Dave Brubeck Plays and Plays and Plays — would be "considered and understood" by his jazz colleagues in this shared spirit of creativity and innovation, Brubeck returned to the thorny subject of spontaneous creativity trumping flawless technical precision. Ideals of musical "perfection" and instrumental mastery run deep. So why couldn't Brubeck be technically faultless and creative? "None of us is the complete jazz musician," Brubeck stated. The musicians he admired most had powerful individual creative identities, and those he respected would "differ with my opinions. I know this because they are as outspoken in their beliefs as I am in mine." And with that, Brubeck Plays Brubeck readied itself to make its place in a world in which many eager young jazz pianists had already changed jazz indelibly, or were about to, with ideas often expressed in their most pure form on solo piano albums. …
If polytonality was Brubeck's answer, bebop wasn't necessarily the question. Neither Brubeck Plays Brubeck nor Dave Brubeck Plays and Plays and Plays had anything to say about the technical apparatus or the expressive milieu of bebop. The 1953 package tour he shared with Charlie Parker had given Brubeck a ringside seat, bebop every night, blowing through the guru's own horn. He understood the music intellectually and his soul could be stirred by its emotional message, but bebop could not produce the note combinations and rhythms with which he himself wanted to work.
Brubeck Plays Brubeck was the first record devoted to original Brubeck compositions, and his aim was to flesh out those sketchy "skeletal frameworks," as he called them in the liner note, as fully functioning and internally consistent pieces, nurtured by improvisational urges. Without the reliable feedback loop of audience appreciation, working alone at home on a piano that slipped conspicuously, if not entirely unattractively, out of tune in the upper octaves, Brubeck thought through how to play Brubeck.
The turbulent harmonic waters of landmark solos like "These Foolish Things" from Jazz at Oberlin - and Jazz: Red Hot and Cool's "Little Girl Blue," with their tonality-straining clusters, would have no part in an album that took its stylistic bearings from Bach, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Milhaud, and Romantic balladry. "In Your Own Sweet Way," "Walkin' Line," and "Two-Part Contention" forged a living, breathing connection between J. S. Bach's weaves of line and the jazz tradition of walking bass. The balladry of "Weep No More" opened the B side, which then continued with a pair of waltz-based compositions, "When I Was Young" and "The Waltz" (neither of which Brubeck would play again), arranged around two pieces that became fixtures of the quartet repertoire. "One Moment Worth Years" was an appreciative nod toward Fats Waller, and the stately and harmonically palatial "The Duke" would prove more than worthy of its dedicatee. Dave Brubeck Plays and Plays and Plays would present a sequence of nine unconnected tracks, but Brubeck Plays Brubeck feels internally integrated, like a neoclassical suite of piano pieces, and a faithful, note-for-note transcribed version of the album would work as a standalone concert item.
Before "In Your Own Sweet Way," "Swing Bells" served as what Brubeck called a "mood-setting introduction," an overture in all but name. When the tune was revived on the 1987 quartet album Blue Rondo, Bill Smith's frolicsome clarinet and Chris Brubeck's tailgating trombone, with Brubeck's rolling left hand adding an underbelly of funk, lent the piece a Dixieland strut that echoed Brubeck's repurposing of his song for the finale of The Real Ambassadors. But in 1956 "Swing Bells" was fleeting and elusive, doing more than merely setting the mood.
"Swing Bells" was a descriptive title that rang true. Over a chiming note from the cavernous depths of Brubeck's piano, chords pealed like a hammer striking the dome of a bell, serving notice that Brubeck Plays Brubeck would be an essay in kneading harmonic color around the keyboard. Unlike in Bill Evans's "Peace Piece," where the tritone suddenly established a fresh harmonic plateau, in "Swing Bells" the tritone was a fully functional part of the harmony that refused to let the harmony drop anchor. And Brubeck listened in carefully, his hands hovering over notes that rhymed, or clashed, against that unchanging bass note.
"Often when I do not have a clear cut idea as to how I will improvise on a tune, I'll begin by experimenting with many chord changes played against a pedal" or bass in the left hand," Brubeck tells us in the essay he wrote for Brubeck Plays Brubeck. "Out of diverse approaches to ['Swing Bells'], the searching quality of this version seemed to be the most stimulating." And "searching" was an apt choice of word. Brubeck saturated "Swing Bells" in so many harmonic layers that the theme we hear in full on The Real Ambassadors or the 1987 Blue Rondo album was kept at a distance here, as a texture built on chords blocked out the melodic light. Brubeck wanted to make "Swing Bells" function as idiomatic piano music, a process that ended with him devouring his original song. The moment Brubeck might be about to reveal the whole thing was the moment the melody was tugged unobtrusively back into the texture. During the second chorus, fragile threads of melody were left dangling as block chords leaped out of the texture. Heading toward the last chorus, the harmony was slipped up a whole step, without Brubeck's preparing the ear with any transition or gear change.
This devouring of melody using harmony obliged listeners to patch those veiled melodic threads together to create their own idea of what "Swing Bells" might be — far from the bebopper's preferred mode of melodic improvisation, where maintaining line was all-important. Parker wasn't much interested in making instrumental color integral to any musical argument; focusing on timbre would have been an invitation to stand back from the unfolding high-speed melodic argument to admire the passing view. Brubeck's approach to transforming a song was closer to the Thelonious Monk of "I Should Care," where harmony was placed in tension against the piano's innate capacity to sustain sound. There were also irresistible echoes of the late-nineteenth-century principle of piano transcription, as composers like Liszt and Busoni reshaped vocal pieces by Schubert, Mozart, and Verdi to make virtuosic piano showpieces.
When the Miles Davis Quintet — with John Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Red Garland (piano), Paul Chambers (bass), and Philly Joe Jones (drums) — recorded their version of "In Your Own Sweet Way," only a month after Brubeck's solo reading, they subtly repositioned the piece as a jazz ballad, which helps gauge where Brubeck Plays Brubeck stands in relation to jazz and classical music. Coltrane sculpted a solo of granite beauty from the chord changes, which he investigated from all perspectives, like an architect envisaging how a structure might look in the round. With his trademark mute in place, Davis stretched the melody line, delaying structurally vital notes until the last possible moment, which obliged him to run lesser passing notes together. Miles also messed with Brubeck's harmonic scheme. Brubeck temporarily parked his composition on a fifth in the middle of its first phrase, but Davis's decision to lip down the fifth created a flattened fifth, which was Davis adding his signature to Brubeck's composition.
Brubeck's challenging Davis about why he chose to play a flattened fifth was met with the response, "Because you wrote that motherfuckin' note." “Brubeck laughed uneasily when Marian McPartland asked him about the circumstances during his appearance on her radio program Piano Jazz in 1984. She demonstrated the offending note on the piano and concluded that this was a definitive "Miles-ism"—as Brubeck kept mum.
But Brubeck's account of events is exonerated by the original lead sheet, written in his own hand and entitled simply "Sweet Way"” — with no flattened fifth. That Davis consulted this primary source, had it lying next to him on a music stand as he recorded, is almost certain. Before mailing it back to Brubeck, he wrote "Thank you—Miles" at the top of the page. Dave and Miles weren't going to let a single note — an E natural — spoil their friendship, and Brubeck was happy to bask in the reflected glory of having Miles record his piece: on the facing page, as an aide-memoire, he noted, "Save — Miles Davis signature."
This working copy of his lead sheet offers other revealing insights into Brubeck's compositional thinking. Below an initial draft of the melody line (in pen), he outlined a basic harmonic skeleton (in pencil) that was finessed on the go; as he sized up a range of alternatives, chord symbols were scribbled at the bottom of the page. But approaching the ending, his certainty about "In Your Own Sweet Way" appeared to evaporate. On a second page, his sketching disintegrated into vigorously crossed-out fragments, A diversion toward the minor was quickly stamped on, but was also the seed of an idea that eventually evolved into the coda we know.
An instruction scrawled at the bottom of the second page — "write ending with Paul, play out then go D" — told his musicians to play the head and then jump to rehearsal letter D to move the piece toward its conclusion; clear enough, apart from Brubeck's neglecting to write a letter D on his score. Cooking up an ending "with Paul" tells us that Brubeck needed to hear his composition unfolding in real time before he could settle on a convincing ending. In the lead-up to Brubeck Plays Brubeck, "In Your Own Sweet Way" would feature regularly in the quartet's setlist, and a live radio recording from Basin Street East in February 1956 finds Brubeck working hard to integrate the composition with his improvisation; at the climax of his solo, the theme reappears as block chords riding a sea of arpeggios. But the grandeur of his theme requires a correspondingly elaborate ending, and the piece finishes with a resolute coda, granite block chords bringing the curtain down before a flourish delivers us back safely to the home key. Miles Davis also felt the need for a coda, and a little arranged interlude that Miles inserted before each solo in his version was looped to provide an ending (an earlier Davis dummy run, with Sonny Rollins on tenor saxophone, unreleased at the time, had no interlude and was weaker for it),
It's little surprise that, as a composer playing his own piece, Brubeck accentuates compositional architecture in his solo version. Whereas Miles stretched Brubeck's theme, massaging it into a shape he found pleasing, Brubeck respects the full rhythmic values of each phrase. He deviates from the lead sheet. Where the first bar opens with a group of three notes, followed by a group of two, Brubeck tucks in an unobtrusive passing note to maintain the rhythmic symmetry. Miles played a group of three notes followed by two; Brubeck accentuates two groups of three notes.
Even through the tart recorded sound, Brubeck's piano shimmers with the grace of an orchestral celesta, an antidote to all that critical sweat about unseemly weight and bombast. Low block chords supported by full-bodied bass notes warm the middle section of the piece, and the reappearance of the opening theme is bolstered by a rich reharmonization. As soon as Brubeck begins his improvisation, the keyboard texture thins. Two rhythmically skipping, limping lines weave together, bunched within the same octave, the left hand shadowing the right. This clipped precision and dry tone provides a slate-wiping contrast to the sumptuous harmonic palette hitherto served up — from celesta to Romantic piano to textures that resemble a harpsichord.
Another gesture that percolates through Brubeck Plays Brubeck like a unifying itch is the long note-short note limp with which Brubeck begins his improvisation on "In Your Own Sweet Way," which reappears during "Walkin" Line," "The Duke," and "Two-Part Contention." Its clean-cut rigidity, articulated with mechanical clarity, innocent enough on its own terms, struck some as dangerously antithetical to the true spirit of swing. Louis Armstrong, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins did not skip. They glided from the long note into the short note, the longer first note giving leverage to sway into the short note; and the music, literally, swung.
Heavily dotted, rhythmic hops, a feature of French music since the baroque period, had seeped into the language of French neoclassicism, almost to the point of mannerisms, and always were going to feature in an album that related so explicitly to Darius Milhaud. But Brubeck is experimenting quite consciously with rhythmic feel and weight. "When I Was Young" throws skipping rhythms into relief against passages of gliding swing, while "Two-Part Contention," which might reasonably have been expected to root itself in stately baroque rhythms, is dispatched with a lilting swing. (That Brubeck considered this tune to be a swinger all along is confirmed by its treatment on his ] 979 quartet album Back Home, where Jerry Bergonzi's tenor saxophone and Chris Brubeck's trombone bind the interweaving strands of the melody line together like a classic jazz front line, as Butch Miles claws the space open with a sequence of splashy drum breaks).
The British jazz critic Charles Fox ended his review of Brubeck Plays Brubeck for the January 1957 issue of Gramophone magazine with a startling and prescient comparison with Thelonious Monk: "Both have difficulty in articulating their ideas, both convey a striking sense of urgency," Fox wrote, his objection based on his discomfort with the fact that neither pianist conformed to the fluid rhythmic flow of bebop. Fox could not bring himself to love the record, that much is clear, but he managed to say something meaningful about the Brubeckian aesthetic nevertheless, making connections many of his colleagues missed. He regretted that so many tracks were "out of or only just in tempo" — beginning with "Swing Bells" — and contended that "people who think jazz has to swing to be any good will hate this record. Dave Brubeck's playing never raises the temperature." But he recognized the "formally ingenious" constructs of "Walkin' Line" and "Two-Part Contention," and that "Brubeck thinks within the jazz idiom, even if his work exploits devices from other musical fields."
Would Fox have changed his mind had he also reviewed, a year later, Dave Brubeck Plays and Plays and Plays? The opening track, a four-minute spectacle of rawboned stride piano and blues harmony, torpedoes any generalities about his playing proposed by Brubeck Plays Brubeck; "Sweet Cleo Brown," dedicated to an early mentor, gets funkier by the chorus. Brown was famed from her prowess as a boogie-woogie and stride player, but her career floundered when she acquired a drug habit. She apparently took a shine to Brubeck when she came to Stockton in an attempt to escape her demons and checked into a hospital. Her doctors thought it would be a good idea if she gradually eased herself back into work, and Brubeck was charged with picking her up, taking her to a job, and ensuring she returned home safely. Brubeck also played intermission piano for her shows, and Brown advised Brubeck against his habit of beating time with his feet as he played — the sound, she said, had to come through his fingers." Paying tribute all these years later, Brubeck gnaws on a phrase in the second chorus that pre-echoes Time Further Out’s "It's a Raggy Waltz," and his striding gets busier and more raucous as it works back toward his theme — and a long way from the perfumed classicism of Brubeck Plays Brubeck.
Brubeck's introduction retraces the stock intro with which Cleo Brown introduced her boogie-woogie performances, and the sleeve note, by Russ Wilson, picks up the history of "Sweet Cleo Brown": the tune's opening melodic strains are "reminiscent of a tune that David Van Kriedt and Paul Desmond used to play," Wilson writes, and a single piece of manuscript paper headed "Paul & Dave's Tune—van Kriedt" joins the historical dots. Underneath three elegantly drawn staves of music in his own hand, David has written: "To whom it may concern: I recognize the right of Dave Brubeck to write a song which resembles this song (Paul & Dave's Tune) in any way for agreements already decided upon." Dated November 24, 1957, Van Kriedt added: "For the above right Dave Brubeck paid me $150.00." Brubeck was helping out a close associate in financial need by buying his music, melodic material that looked, on the page, more suited to baroque-based counterpoint than the blues.
Brubeck's decision to locate the tune explicitly inside jazz tradition was out of deference to Cleo Brown, but perhaps also, having made his big statement with Brubeck Plays Brubeck, he felt able, as his title implies, to simply play and play and play. Retaining his $150 worth of melodic contour, he drops in a tangy blue note and pulls notes around the bar to make the rhythmic footfall less predictable. George Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" are also power swingers, punched out with strutting block chords, and even when Victor Herbert's "Indian Summer" encourages Brubeck's classical sensibilities, Rachmaninoff-like plunges and waves of arpeggios swing rather than skip. Brubeck's own composition, "In Search of a Theme," pairs a finger-snapping walking bass line against a theme that comes to rest on a single repeated note, leaving his left hand free to further the interest with thematically enabled block chords, reversing the usual roles of the two hands. The track also includes the first appearance of the Brubeck children on record, who are yelling in the background as the track winds to a close.
Screaming children — even if they might one day turn into sidemen — highlight the perils of recording at home, although this second time around the recorded sound was superior to Brubeck Plays Brubeck and the piano was impeccably in tune. Many criticisms aimed at the earlier album are answered by its sequel, and they demand to be heard as a pair, even if history has favored Brubeck Plays Brubeck. As regards the supposed division between classicism and swing, Brubeck was sending out the message, "I can do both." And four decades later, when he returned to the studio to make a solo album of standards interspersed with the occasional original, the layout of Dave Brubeck Plays and Plays and Plays was the blueprint he followed, not the overt classicism of Brubeck Plays Brubeck.”