Monday, May 24, 2021

The Dave Brubeck Quartet - The Complete Storyville Broadcasts

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

The original members of the Dave Brubeck Quartet shown in a publicity photo by James J. Kriegsmann, the noted New York photographer whose specialty was portrait photography of entertainment personalities.

Members of the quartet are Paul Desmond, alto saxophone; Dave Brubeck, piano; Herb Barman, drum set & bongos; and Wyatt "Bull" Ruther, acoustic double bass.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet made their first east coast tour at the beginning of 1952 with stops in New York at Birdland, Boston at George Wein's Storyville Club in the Hotel Buckminster, Gamby's in Baltimore, the Skybar in Cleveland, the Blue Note in Philadelphia, and a second engagement at Birdland in New York.

As documented in Richard Vacca’s seminal The Boston Chronicles: Faces, Places and Nightlife 1937-1962 [2012], the Storyville Jazz club was located primarily in the Copley Square Hotel during its storied existence [sorry, I could resist the pun, bad though it may be].

But what isn’t so widely known is that it quickly closed [the second week of December] after it opened at the Huntington at Exeter hotel location following its opening there on October 25, 1950.

Also not widely known is that the club was for a time located at the Hotel Buckminster in Kenmore Square:

“It doesn't hurt to mention a few of the high points of Weins two-and-a-half seasons at the Buckminster: four appearances each by Dave Brubeck, Erroll Garner, and Lee Wiley; three appearances each by Ella Fitzgerald and Josh White; rwo appearances by Sidney Bechet, Billie Holiday, Pee Wee Russell, George Shearing, Art Tatum, and Sarah Vaughan; employment for many local musicians including Braff, Field, LeFave, Marquis Foster, Alice Ross Groves, the Jones Brothers, Herb Pomeroy, Pat Rainey, Al Vega, and Jimmy Woode; Wein's own house trio with the marvelous Jo Jones on drums; a night of Leonard Bernstein doing his best to play the blues with Pee Wee Russell; live broadcasts over WMEX and WHDH; and what must have been the most unusual week in Storyville history, in April 1952, when John Carradine recited Shakespeare, Johnny Windhurst played Dixieland, and Sam Gary sang folk songs.”

And although, much of the music recorded by the Dave Brubeck Quartet at Storyville was released on Fantasy and Columbia LPs, there were a number live broadcasts from the Hotel Buckminster Storyville on WMEX and WHDH with Nat Hentoff as the radio announcer that were never commercially issued until 2014. 

In that year, Essential Jazz Classics issued a 3 CD set with 21 tracks from the radio broadcasts [with snappy and hip comments from Nat as intros to each track] serving as a prequel to the Fantasy and Columbia albums under the heading - Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring Paul Desmond: The Complete Storyville Broadcasts  [[EJC55654] replete with a sixteen page booklet that contains the original insert notes from the Fantasy and Columbia recordings as well as this new commentary by Jason Yale.

“The Storyville club, in Boston, was opened by jazz promoter and producer George Wein (a Beantown native) in 1950. Ahead of its time, it was a magnet for music titans like Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Lennie Tristano, and Dave Brubeck, who performed there regularly. The club took its name from the country's first red light district in New Orleans known for being the place where jazz truly came into its own. Storyville was first located downstairs in the Copley Square Hotel. In February 1951 it relocated to the Hotel Buckminster in Kenmore Square but returned to the Copley Square Hotel in 1953 - this time at street level. In 1959, the club moved to the Bradford Hotel on Tremont St. for one year.

"In September [1951] I reopened the Boston Storyville," wrote George Wein in his memoirs, Myself Among Others, "and said a silent prayer for this upcoming year's grosses. My hope would soon be rewarded when we welcomed an up-and-coming group led by pianist Dave Brubeck. Brubeck was not yet the major artist he would become. But he had made a splash with a club date in San Francisco, and word had travelled about his appeal. His agent called me to say that I should try this guy at Storyville; he was already booked in New York City, and a Boston stop would help defray the cost of the East Coast tour. His fee was a mere $800 for the week, and didn't cover transportation, hotel accommodations, or the commission for their agency. So obviously Brubeck and his guys were working for next to nothing."

Brubeck's first recordings with Paul Desmond were made with the former's octet in 1946-50, but they would form a quartet in August of 1951, when they made a studio session for Fantasy on which they recorded two songs that would be included on the live repertoire of their first years and are, thus, heard on this collection; "Crazy Chris" and "Lyons Busy". The other members of the quartet on that date were Fred Dutton on bass, and Herb Barman on drums. By November 1951, bassist Wyatt Ruther had replaced Dutton, and that's the group heard on most of these radio broadcasts.

Nearly all of Brubeck's early quartet recordings had been made live on location, many of them at universities or colleges. By the time the last of these broadcasts were played, the quartet had only made one LP for the Columbia label, and it was the live album Jazz Goes to College, recorded during various college concerts in 1954. 

As stated by Columbia producer George Avakian: "The 1950's saw the emergence of a new kind of audience for jazz -one which existed all along, but had never before been brought together in its native habitat. This was the college jazz audience; more precisely, the audiences which were already present on college campuses throughout the country, but who had not been given the chance to assemble to hear jazz on the home grounds. Campus concerts prior to the early fifties consisted of classical music series sponsored by the schools; beginning in 1952, student organizations, or small groups of students acting with the faculty's permission but independently of an official university group, began to engage jazz artists to appear in individual concerts. From the beginning, these concerts were a success, and today virtually all colleges have at least one jazz concert a year in the campus auditorium or gymnasium. The pioneer combo that broke this field wide open was the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Working mostly in the Middle West, with a certain degree of concertizing on the West Coast as well, Dave almost single handedly opened up this market, and by 1953 enjoyed what amounted to a personal college circuit. Many other jazz artists have followed in his wake, but none so intensively as Dave. It is reasonable and fitting that his Jazz Goes to College album is still his biggest all-time seller, and is in fact the most popular album the modern jazz field has ever known."

The location of the radio shows presented here is not, however, that of a college concert, but that of a jazz club. "In those early days", explained George Wein, "Brubeck and his alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond, looked disconcertingly alike. They had the same medium height and slender build; they wore similar suits and identical horn-rimmed glasses. For the first few nights that they were in the club, I couldn't tell them apart. But after a few days, I finally knew whom I was talking to -especially after I caught on to Desmond's dry sense of humor. Clothing aside, in a musical sense, Brubeck and Desmond were already stylish characters when they came to Boston. 

When the group started to play, their sound created a musical alchemy that everyone could feel. Brubeck's style and time were a little different; he had a dynamic sensitivity and a unique touch at the keyboard. And Desmond's lyrical, melodious sound borrowed from a number of sources but resembled no one else. They had a distinctive interplay. They swung, but with their own inimitable momentum. They were unique. Although they debuted to a small crowd, word quickly got around. After three or four nights into their engagement, the club was filled. This was the beginning of an association and friendship with Dave Brubeck that has lasted to this day. Dave and his wife, lola, personified elegance and grace."

Brubeck played at the Storyville club in 1952,1953 and 1954, and various of his performances were recorded via radio broadcasts. A few recordings made at the club were issued by Fantasy (along with two selections taped in Carmel, included here as a bonus) on the album Jazz at Storyville: The Dave Brubeck Trio and Quartet (Fantasy LP 3-240). Also, some of the 1954 shows were acquired by Columbia, and six performances were released that year on the LP Dave Brubeck at Storyville: 1954 (Columbia CL 590). 

This edition contains, in chronological order, all of the band's known existing performances at the club, among them five never before released broadcasts in their entirety. It is not known whether or not other material from the sets issued on the Columbia LP still exists.”

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