Dave – and All That (Cool) Jazz

Dave BrubeckDavid WarrenDaveBrubeck (December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012) was an American jazz pianist and composer, considered to be one of the foremost exponents of cool jazz.  [That’s a style of modern jazz music that arose following the Second World War. It is characterized by its relaxed tempos and lighter tone, in contrast to the bebop style. Cool jazz often employs formal arrangements and incorporates elements of classical music.]

Dave, pictured alongside in a 1954 photo, wrote a number of jazz standards, including “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “The Duke”. Brubeck’s style ranged from refined to bombastic, reflecting his mother’s attempts at classical training and his improvisational skills. His music is known for employing unusual time signatures, and superimposing contrasting rhythms, meters, and tonalities.

In 1958 African-American bassist Eugene Wright joined for the group’s U.S. Department of State tour of Europe and Asia. Wright became a permanent member in 1959, making the “classic” Quartet’s personnel complete.

His long-time musical partner, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, wrote the saxophone melody for the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s best remembered piece, “Take Five”, which is in 5/4 time and has endured as a jazz classic on one of the top-selling jazz albums, Time Out. Brubeck experimented with time signatures throughout his career, recording “Pick Up Sticks” in 6/4, “Unsquare Dance” in 7/4, “World’s Fair” in 13/4, and “Blue Rondo à la Turk” in 9/8. He was also a respected composer of orchestral and sacred music, and wrote soundtracks for television such as Mr. Broadway and the animated miniseries This Is America, Charlie Brown.

Brubeck was nearly expelled when one of his professors discovered that he could not read music. Several of his professors came forward, arguing that his ability with counterpoint and harmony more than compensated. The college was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and agreed to let Brubeck graduate only after he had promised never to teach piano.

After serving nearly four years in the army, he attended Mills College in Oakland. He studied under Darius Milhaud, who encouraged him to study fugue and orchestration, but not classical piano.

BrubeckQuartetBrubeck organized the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, with Paul Desmond on alto saxophone. They took up a long residency at San Francisco’s Black Hawk nightclub and gained great popularity touring college campuses, recording a series of albums.

Brubeck died of heart failure on December 5, 2012, in Norwalk, Connecticut, one day before his 92nd birthday. He was on his way to a cardiology appointment, accompanied by his son Darius. A birthday party concert had been planned for him with family and famous guests. It was recast as a memorial tribute.

In his indelible memory, I offer the 1967 YouTube version of his In Your Own Sweet Way. There’s no denying the fact that it’s a masterwork of its genre – it its own sweet way!

As a member of the American Symphony Orchestra League and in my capacity as the General Manager of the Florida Philharmonic, Miami, I regularly attended ASOL’s annual conferences. One of them, held in New York City, was notable as the chief guest was Dave Brubeck, who was there with his quartet and regaled the orchestra musicians with an outstanding performance of his cool jazz, which literally brought the house down. At the reception that followed, I spoke with Dave and mentioned that we’d met earlier in Calcutta many moons ago when he was touring with his quartet as part of the U.S. State Department’s Cultural initiative. With remarkable acuity, he recalled his group’s Indian tour in 1958, and more particularly the much heralded performance at the Great Eastern Hotel. He hadn’t realized that among the younger Bengali generation, there were many who ‘grooved’ his quartet’s form of cool jazz with glimmers of classical music every now and then.


As a side-note,  the Hotel, during its heyday (shown alongside in 1865) was known variously as the “Jewel of the East” and the “Savoy of the East”.  And, it did not hide the fact that it had housed many famous personalities including  Elizabeth II, Mark Twain, and – another famous American – Dave Brubeck!

Thirty years later—in 1988, as the Cold War was waning—the Quartet performed in Moscow at the reciprocal state dinner hosted by President Ronald Reagan for General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev during their fourth summit meeting. The sequence of events leading up to this occasion, including the Quartet’s long-anticipated tour of the Soviet Union during the previous year, reveals Brubeck to have been not only a talented musician but a canny entrepreneur as well.

Jazz as Democracy
By all accounts, Brubeck’s tours in the 1950s and 1980s were among the most successful of their kind. Brubeck, however, attributed their efficacy primarily to the power of an influential idea that came into its own toward the beginning of the Cold War—namely, jazz as democracy!

References: Wikipedia, The Journal of Musicology, My Diary

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