Dave Brubeck (1920 – 2012)
For a time, Mr Brubeck was one of the most popular jazz musicians in the world. At the same time, he was one of the most critically reviled jazz musicians around. Time heals all wounds and by the time of his death today, love and admiration was pouring in from serious and casual jazz fans alike.
A great deal of his fame stems from “Take Five”, a song first performed in 1959 by his legendary quartet (Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright, Joe Morello and Brubeck). The 45 was the first jazz single to sell a million copies. Though Brubeck was a prolific composer, he did not in fact, write “Take Five”. It was written by Mr. Desmond.
Many critics sniffed back then, at Mr. Brubeck’s music, saying that it was stiff, bombastic and worst of all, unswinging. Though the criticisms rankled at Brubeck, he kept on going, achieving great public popularity, especially on college campuses, in the late ’50′s and early ’60′s.
I admit that when I was new to jazz, I let the opinions of others keep me from digging Brubeck’s music for a while. However, as I became a big fan of Paul Desmond’s solo work, I made my way back to the source.
I grew to like Brubeck the musician and love Brubeck the composer. His compositions, such as “The Duke”, In Your Own Sweet Way” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” are stunning in not only for their beauty, but for the complexities that they reveal upon repeated listenings.
Those unfamiliar with Mr. Brubeck’s work should start with the most famous album, Time Out. It’s a virtual greatest hits package and it captures the essence of the famous Brubeck sound. At Carnegie Hall includes some of the same selections as Time Out, but they are so much better in the live setting. A personal favorite is The Real Ambassadors, Brubeck’s “protest opera”, which was only performed once, at the 1962 Monterrey Jazz Festival. The music was by Mr. Brubeck and the lyrics by Brubeck and his wife, Iola. The studio album was recorded in 1961 with a “cast” of Louis Armstrong, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross and Carmen McRae and Brubeck. There are several moments of sheer brilliance including Satchmo’s still haunting vocal on “They Say I Look Like God” and his duet with McRae on “You Swing Baby”, which is “The Duke” with added lyrics. And finally an album that I just remembered since I started writing this post; Brubeck and Rushing a meeting of the Brubeck Quartet and the legendary Basie vocalist. It sounds like a train wreck on paper, but I’ll be damned if they don’t all find common ground and pull it off beautifully!
I wrote more than I intended to here. I wanted to let the videos speak for themselves, as I’m sure they will when you watch them. In any case, Rest In Peace to a true jazz giant – Dave Brubeck.