[JPL] Dave Brubeck, the jazz giant who inspired Clint
drjazz at drjazz.com
Mon Nov 29 22:16:16 EST 2010
Dave Brubeck, the jazz giant who inspired Clint
Dave Brubeck, 90 next month, talks to Adam Sweeting about starring
in Clint Eastwood's latest film.
By Adam Sweeting 10:21AM GMT 29 Nov 2010
One of the musical trademarks of jazz maestro Dave Brubeck is his use of
exotic time signatures, but his music still has universal appeal because
Brubeck could always make the complicated sound catchy. Turn on the TV
today, and you can hear Brubeck's Unsquare Dance (in 7/4 time) in a
McDonald's commercial, and Take Five (in 5/4) in a Waitrose
advertisement. Both pieces are 50 years old, but they feel about as
obsolete as the sky or the ocean.
In their day, they even became hit singles. "I was always very aware of
drummers," explains Brubeck, about his fascination with unusual beats
and rhythms. "My oldest brother Henry was a drummer, and he drummed on
everything in the house from the kitchen sink to stovepipes. He was the
first drummer in the Gil Evans Orchestra, so you've got to know how
great he was."
Brubeck turns 90 on December 6, and, in the course of his long life, he
has been in the thick of jazz's evolution from swing and bebop to hard
bop, cool jazz, and orchestral jazz with a global flavour. Having
seasoned his music with sounds and accents from Turkey, Japan and South
America, more recently Brubeck has turned to writing longer orchestrated
pieces. Some, such as The Commandments, reveal a spiritual bent, while
he recently completed a jazz-opera version of the John Steinbeck novel
Thanks to his musical sons Darius, Dan and Chris, who have often played
with their father and are currently on a UK tour billed as "Brubecks
Play Brubeck", the Brubeck name has expanded into a dynasty. Dave always
saw his work as part of a wider musical evolution.
"In 1949, in an interview in DownBeat magazine, I said, 'Jazz is like a
sponge'," Brubeck remembers, down the phone line from Boston, where he's
on a tour that includes three nights at New York's Blue Note jazz club.
"I said, 'It's gonna pick up music from all over the world, and some day
you might even hear a Chinese trumpet player'. Everybody thought I was
crazy, but now who's crazy? There are great Russian and Polish
musicians, and musicians from all over the world.
"My own Brubeck Institute in California is turning out fantastic young
jazz players, and I know great things will happen."
Not even Clint Eastwood's new film, Dave Brubeck -- In His Own Sweet
Way, can fully encompass Brubeck's life and work despite being 90
minutes long and crammed with music, anecdotes and superb archive
material. It's still a great place to start. It traces Brubeck's life
from his upbringing on a northern Californian cattle ranch, via combat
duty in the US Army in World War Two, to musical studies with the French
composer Darius Milhaud, and thence to one of the mightiest careers in
As Eastwood explains: "My early love of jazz coincided with Dave Brubeck
appearing on the scene in the late 1940s and Fifties. This gave me the
opportunity to see Dave in person. And, as jazz was developing as a
great American art form, this provided an inspiration for artistic
achievement as I began pursuing an acting career." The film, he hopes,
will "capture Dave, his life and music for the ages".
Brubeck himself has been studying the film while on the road. "You've
got to really sit and watch it and pay attention because, if somebody
interrupts you, you lose the thread," he says. "It covers a lot of
territory, and it's remarkable the way they've tied together what's
important in my life. And it's wonderful how they've featured each of
the guys from my quartet."
Brubeck's "classic" quartet consisted of himself alongside saxophonist
Paul Desmond (who composed Take Five), bass player Eugene Wright and
drummer Joe Morello. With their dark suits and studious demeanour, they
became popular ambassadors for modern jazz, touring college campuses as
well as playing in prestigious concert halls.
Alongside Miles Davis and John Coltrane, Brubeck came to personify jazz
for millions of listeners, though the impeccably liberal pianist felt
uncomfortable when Time magazine picked him, the white face in a music
dominated by black musicians, for its cover in 1954.
Wherever his career took him, he never forgot his wartime experiences,
which included being caught up in the Battle of the Bulge and crossing
the Rhine with the American Army.
"Our enemies were Germany and Italy, but we as Americans were brought up
in the same religion. I thought, 'Don't we know the 10 Commandments and
"Thou shalt not kill" '? I saw things you don't forget, such as
slave-labour camps where people were starving to death. I thought, 'I'm
going to write a piece about the 10 Commandments.' Five years ago, I
finally did it."
After a stint leading an army dance band, the Wolf Pack, Brubeck arrived
back Stateside and heard for the first time the revolutionary new bebop
music pioneered by the likes of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. He
was able to study Parker close up when their respective bands toured the
American West Coast together. Parker was struggling with heroin addiction.
"He was a very well-read, intelligent, wonderful guy, and really sorry
that the drugs had hooked him. He'd keep asking my sax player, Paul
Desmond, if he could borrow his horn because Charlie had hocked his for
drugs. The tour manager roomed with him, and he'd put his bed across the
door so Charlie couldn't get out to find a fix."
The non-drinking, non-smoking Brubeck came to represent a kind of jazz
free from druggy, low-life associations, though there were critics who
found his music too pseudo-classical ("Stylistic innovator or repetitive
bore?" wondered The Playboy Guide to Jazz). But Brubeck argues that,
ever since it began, jazz has borrowed from classical music and opera:
"Do you think Duke Ellington didn't listen to Debussy? Louis Armstrong
loved opera, did you know that? Name me a jazz pianist who wasn't
influenced by European music!"
When Dave Brubeck was born, Louis Armstrong hadn't yet formed his Hot
Five, Duke Ellington was still an unknown musician in Washington DC, and
Charlie Parker was three months old. Brubeck sometimes can't believe all
the history he has lived through.
"I got a poster from Columbia Records, and there's Miles Davis, Charlie
Mingus, Ellington, Count Basie -- everybody in that poster has died, I'm
the only one left. And great players like Paul Desmond and Gerry
Mulligan, it's hard to believe they're gone because we were all so
close. But I believe in the future and the tradition will go on."
/'Arena: Dave Brubeck -- In His Own Sweet Way' is on BBC Four at 9pm on
Dec 3. /
/Jamie Cullum's two-part interview with Dave Brubeck is on Radio 2 at
7pm tomorrow and next Tues. A two-CD set, 'Dave Brubeck -- Legacy of a
Legend', is out on Columbia Legacy.
Dr. Jazz Operations
Oak Park, MI 48237
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