[JPL] Dave Brubeck, the jazz giant who inspired Clint

Dr. Jazz 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 
Cannery Row.

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 
American music.

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.


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