Dave Brubeck: An Appreciation

Chris Brubeck's Triple Play with Dave Brubeck
Chris Brubeck's Triple Play with Dave Brubeck

Story by J Hunter
Photograph by Andrzej Pilarczyk

Columbia Records released Time Out in 1959 – the year I was born.

The most famous piece on the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s album Time Out is, of course, “Take Five,” named for one of the atypical time signatures that made the 1959 release a ground-breaker. But I didn’t hear it the first time on Time Out; I found it on a Columbia Records artist sampler called Jazz Omnibus, which I discovered while looking through my parents’ record collection one boring afternoon. The album included tunes from Louis Armstrong and Miles Davis, neither of which made much impact on me: Armstrong was too hokey, and Miles was too… well, weird. (Hey, I was seven years old. The wildest music I’d heard up to that point was the pre-Sergeant Pepper Beatles; I wasn’t ready for Kind of Blue until college, 11 years later.)

But then I heard Joe Morello’s 5-beat drum figure that led into Brubeck’s iconic opening vamp, and something clicked into place. I remember standing in front of my parents’ record player, absolutely riveted. I had to play it again, so I did – several times. Then I looked at the album cover and found out the piece was on another album called Time Out. My parents were big Brubeck fans, and had a bunch of his records including the object of my new-found affection. I put the record on the turntable, dropped the needle on the dizzying “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” and that was that. I was hooked for life.

45 years later, I listened to Brubeck haltingly tell a packed Zankel Music Center how Morello learned the rhythms that inspired Time Out during a State Department-sponsored tour of what was then known as Eurasia. Although this had happened five decades before, you could hear the wonder in Brubeck’s voice as he regaled us with how shocked the native percussionists were when Morello took their rhythms in and then played them back verbatim. Multi-instrumentalist Chris Brubeck stood behind his father, smiling the smile
of s proud son. I first saw Chris play at the first concert I ever attended: A 1972 reunion tour of the “classic” Dave Brubeck Quartet. (Full disclosure: My mom took me to the show.) Chris and drummer brother Dan’s prog-rock band the New Heavenly Blue opened the show. The contrast was – to put it mildly – staggering.

The next time I saw Dave and Chris play together was in 1995 at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, just before the elder Brubeck’s 75th birthday. I sat next to Bob Mason (who was working at Q104 at the time) as Chris joined the Quartet on trombone for the second set. The spark of father and son playing together was just as strong last year, when Dave sat in with Chris’ band Triple Play. The crowd gave Dave a prolonged, whistle-laced standing ovation as he was led onstage, with Triple Play vamping on the opening to “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” I’d been used to seeing the man in poor health for many years, but the physical changes he’d undergone made me catch my breath. But even so, we saw one last blast of the Brubeck Effect, as every chord Dave struck on the piano made year after year drop away.

Artists and bands have come and gone for me, but Dave Brubeck has always stayed. Time Out was the first disc I bought when I got my first CD player, and it was the first thing I burned onto my first iPod. My current iPod has over 12,000 tunes on it, but none of them have the same feeling as what I’m listening to even as I type: “Take Five,” recorded live at the National Cathedral in 1996. Washington National Cathedral… 30 years after I heard the piece for the first time.

Godspeed, Dave Brubeck. Drive home safely.

RIP: Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012 (by Greg Haymes)
LIVE: Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play @ Skidmore’s Zankel Music Center, 6/10/11 (by J Hunter)
LIVE: The Dave Brubeck Quartet @ the Massry Center for the Arts, 10/14/09 (by Greg Haymes)
Dave Brubeck Quartet at Massry Center for the Arts at College of Saint Rose, October 14, 2009 (by J Hunter)
LIVE: Freihofer’s Jazz Festival @ Saratoga, 6/27-28/12 (by Greg Haymes)

1 Comment
  1. Roger Noyes says

    Great piece. Thanks J. Love hearing about the personal connection here.

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