Wednesday, March 31, 2021

The Undiscovered Dave Brubeck Quartet - Part 2

 © Copyright ® Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

One could make the argument that Dave’s quartet reached the peak of its popularity with the recordings that introduced unconventional time signatures - Time Out [Columbia CS 8192] in 1959 followed by Time Further Out [Columbia CS 8490] in 1961. But the group would issue many more high quality studio and in performance recordings in the 1960s with albums such as Jazz Impressions of Japan [1964], Angel Eyes [1965] and My Favorite Things [1966] falling into the first category and the double album of the 1963 Dave Brubeck Quartet highlighting the latter.

Until the classic quartet disbanded in 1968, the group also issued a number of excellent recordings that are barely familiar to the general public. Many of these “under the radar screen” recordings were made in performance using excellent recording technique and showcase the group stretching out and taking chances in ways that are not often captured on recordings made in the studio. Of course, there are a slew of bootlegs made from radio broadcasts and portable tape devices which are the bane of a performing musicians’ existence both because they deprive them financially and denigrate their skills with atrocious audio quality.

I thought it might be fun to use this “undiscovered Brubeck” feature to bring a number of these lesser known recordings to your attention, especially since there are many examples of the music on them available on YouTube.

The second in the series of “undiscovered” or, if you will, lesser known recordings by the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet that I’ve chosen to feature is Jackpot: The Dave Brubeck Trio and Quartet which was issued on Columbia [CL 2712 Mono; CS 9612 Stereo] in 1966. Unlike the recording in our initial feature in this series - Brubeck in Amsterdam: The Dave Brubeck Quartet [Columbia CS 9687] - to my knowledge, Jackpot never made it to CD.

Here are Dave Brubeck’s fun liner notes to the COLUMBIA LP.

“Jackpot... With an Ace In the Hole... When I first started working on piano, it was In northern California- Amador County to be exact- in the Mother Lode country. Amador means love of gold and, believe me, the territory was well named. Gambling was illegal in California, but in lone, where I was raised, the old corner saloon still ran wide open. And twelve miles up the road was the town of Jackson, home of the famous Argonaut and Eureka gold mines, and headquarters for all the lumbermen, cattlemen and miners in the area. 

Now, as a matter of civic pride, this town of Jackson insisted on, and persisted in, offering everything to its citizens that Reno and Las Vegas offered in Nevada. This was no tourist attraction, mind you, but a self-supporting, home-grown industry, providing what the local folks wanted.

The only cloud in the wide-open skies was the dark rumour that kept cropping up, year after year, that free and easy Jackson would soon be closed down. The alarm grew to a regular panic late one afternoon when two big cars pulled into town, loaded with senators from Sacramento. When these senators started to make the rounds, the whole town grew strangely silent. The streets were deserted. The gambling tables disappeared and every door on every joint and eveiy house of prostitution was closed, barred and locked. The arrival of these big guns from Sacramento so terrified the local citizenry that they sent out word their town was closed forever. That was a black day in Amador!

It wasn't until years later that we learned that these state senators were the most disappointed of all. They had not come to judge Jackson, but to fulfill it; and just when they'd discovered this Mother Lode of fun and games, located a convenient sixty miles from the state capital, it vanished before their very eyes. Back to my story. In this town of Jackson, where I worked my first jobs, the piano player better damn well know Ace in the Hole. I hadn't had a call to play "Ace" since then, but I took a chance (I figured these tinhorns wouldn't remember it exact, no how) and called it for openers on the JACKPOT album recorded live in Las Vegas. Piano tuners in Las Vegas were all spoken for the day Columbia and I were to have our big showdown, and I don't mind telling you, my instrument was slipping badly. I was getting desperate, so the Baldwin Piano Company flew in an itinerant tuner from Santa Barbara (but he couldn't do much under the circumstances, as you'll hear later). Well, Sir, I understand there was general pandemonium when my California tuner sashayed into the lobby of the Tropicana with a mysterious black box under his arm. He said he'd been called in from out of town to do a job that the local boys couldn't handle. For some reason I was treated with a lot more respect after that. The hush that fell over the room as we walked by the gambling tables kind of called to mind that Black Day in Jackson.

Now, I knew enough to hole up in my hotel room and come out just in time to play my job. But Teo Macero, our rich producer, he blew in from New York and insisted on producing the album from the vantage point of a nearby gambling table. He wasn't used to the ways of the Old West like me, and I'm sorry to say he left town a ruined man.

There's one more thing I'd like to say about that piano. It was a brand new what you might call "mini-grand." Now everybody knows under the best conditions, new pianos don't hold their pitch and the action is stiff. Under Las Vegas circumstances, where it's 120 degrees outside and polar air-conditioning inside, the only solution I found was for the piano player to get stiff, play the hard action and forget the pitch.

Between you and me, Las Vegas is strictly a fun and games town...and this album was recorded live right there next to the roar of the slot machines, in the Flamingo Room of the Tropicana Hotel. For a while we had a winning streak and here are the lucky numbers: the aforementioned Ace In The Hole, Out Of Nowhere and You Go To My Head (a couple of Paul's favourite tunes) and Who's Afraid! are on Side I. Eugene Wright was beginning to get homesick so Chicago opens Side II, followed by Rude Old Man (bass solo by Eugene), Jackpot (drum solo by Joe Morello, supported by Eugene in a walking bass before Joe takes off on his own) and Win a Few, Lose a Few (a Brubeck original).”

- Dave Brubeck

Engineering : William E. Brittan, Russ Payne Cover art: Laszlo Kubinyi

Manufactured by Columbia Records/CBS, Inc. 51 W.52 Street, New York, N.Y.

1 comment:

  1. Jackpot was issued on CD by Sony (Japan), 2015, and largely available ever since.


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