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Jazz Feature for Feb.18:The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carnegie Hall Feb.22,1963.
Pianist/composer and Jazz icon, Dave Brubeck represents all the most positive aspects of American society as he is the quintessential renaissance man and a true liberal in the best sense of the word. Now, if that statement seems a bit overblown, just check his accomplishments in his 87 years of living. Like Thelonious Monk, Brubeck persevered through ridicule and neglect in his early years only to triumph with his Quartet. He emerged not only with one of the most popular groups in Jazz but never compromised the art form and maintained his individuality as a player unbeholden to no one. Not only did Brubeck achieve his identity but so did his musical soul-mate, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Tonight on the Jazz Feature we'll hear them and the rest of the Quartet at it's peak at Carnegie Hall on Feb. 23,1963. The concert may have been 45 years ago but the music has a timeless freshness.
David Warren Brubeck was born in Concord, California on Dec. 6,1920 and he once said that if he hadn't become a musician, he would have become a veterinarian. Brubeck was raised on a ranch. Mr. Brubeck's early years, involved graduating from college and would also encompass World War 11 sevice under General George Patton. Brubeck, while in the army met someone with whom he would be indelibly associated, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Out of the service, Brubeck returned to studies under French composer Darius Milhaud, a gentleman who Brubeck once said was his greatest influence. Dave began gigging around the Bay area with limited success and formed an experimental eight piece group in 1949-50 (The Dave Brubeck Octet documented on OJC 101 on Concord Music Inc.) that alienated his prospective employers even more. The late Wyatt Ruther, who was a friend of this writer and the bass player in Brubeck's early Quartet, said that Brubeck for many years couldn't even get a New Year's Eve gig in San Francisco (in those days some the most incompetant players worked on New Year's Eve). Brubeck persisted, cut the Octet down to a Trio (Fantasy 24726 on Concord Music Inc.) and finally re-hooked with Paul Desmond to form the Quartet in 1951. The Quartet was a huge hit at a long gig at the fabled 'Black Hawk' at the corner of Turk and Hyde in Frisco's tenderloin. They then began recording and travelling across the nation.The final step in the success story was about to happen.
Dave and his wife Iola put their heads together and came up with a plan to market and present the Quartet in a concert setting.........Brubeck had attended University as did his wife.......of course!!!..... present the Quartet at universities and colleges throughout the U.S.A. as very little Jazz had been tried in those venues in the early 1950's. With Brubeck's academic credentials and the great sound of the group, especially with the addition of Desmond, who incidentally was one of Charlie Parker's favourite saxophonists. As an aside, Parker loved Desmond's playing for two main reasons....Paul's sound and his concept and the fact that he didn't copy anybody....he played like Paul Desmond. That's what Parker stood for......learn and find your own voice. Brubeck opened up a whole new area for his players to perform and introduced the college audience to Jazz. It worked, and the group was catapulted to fame. Superb recordings were made, 'Jazz at Oberlin', 'Jazz at The College of the Pacific' etc. and finally a move to a major record label, Columbia,with the release of 'Jazz Goes to College'. Then a 'Time' Magazine cover. Critical recognition, other piano players coming out and saying that Brubeck influenced them.....all good but as usual in the Jazz community, the knives started to appear. Put downs, cheap shots at the racial composition of the the band(at the time of their early success the Quartet was all Caucasian) etc. Still Brubeck carried on and the group grew in popularity. On the racial front; when Brubeck hired bassist Eugene Wright(an African-American) Brubeck lost tens of thousands of dollars because he refused to change bassists for a tour of the Southern States and cancelled a TV series because the network would not show Mr. Wright on camera....such was the climate in the U.S in the late 50's and early 60's. Brubeck's music began to change and of course, 'Time Out' in 1959 increased the popularity of the band even more. Then along came the winds of change in Jazz.....Ornette Coleman, John Coltrane, Cecil Taylor(who at one time acknowledged Brubeck as an influence) and the Dave Brubeck Quartet was suddenly old hat. However tonight's feature will prove to anyone with ears that the Quartet was still fresh and creative.
The Feb. 23 Carnegie Hall concert was one of the high points of Brubeck's recorded career.....the group was hot! They had just come back from a world tour and summoned up all their energies. 'Blue Rondo a la Turk' and Desmond's hit 'Take Five' make the original recording sound like a rehearsal! The whole concert is inspirational. Desmond's solos on the two aforementioned pieces have been analyzed by many of the major saxophonists like Bud Shank, Phil Woods, John Handy etc.and they were amazed! Paul maintains that same power throughout the concert as does Brubeck, bassist Wright and master drummer Joe Morello. We'll hear most of this concert tonight.
The Feature is to honour Mr. Brubeck and his up and coming appearance at this year's Vancouver Jazz Festival on June 23 at the Orpheum with his present Quartet, which has the same instrumentation and in many ways is just as exciting, accessible and creative as the 'classic' Quartet.
Along with the Brubeck 'Jazz Feature' at 11pm, we'll continue to honour Black History Month with some great music that has a socio-political edge and some of the usual surprises.......I might even surprise myself. Join me at 9pm.
Gavin Walker's The Jazz Show is heard Mondays 9PM to midnight on CITR 101.9 FM and online.
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