I’ve just learnt via twitter that Dave Brubeck has passed away. Brubeck will always have a place in my heart as he was one of the key artists that initiated my love for jazz. It was my Granddad who bought me my two first jazz CDs: Oscar Peterson’s Night Train and Dave Brubeck’s The 40th Anniversary Tour Of The UK, featuring Alec Dankworth on bass. Both Brubeck and Peterson are consistently dismissed for a variety of reasons (too showy, too repetitive, doesn’t swing etc) yet it only seems to be other musicians who regularly shun them, not the listening jazz public. This isn’t true of all musicians of course, the great British pianist Liam Noble recorded a fantastic reappraisal of Brubeck’s work, which Brubeck himself called “an inspiration.”
Anyway, I digress. Brubeck was also the first jazz musician I saw in a concert setting. I was 17 and it was at the Cliffs in Southend. Below is a photograph of my tour poster from the gig.
You will notice at the bottom of the poster I asked bassist Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones to sign – yes, I did wait afterwards at the back of the theatre to get their signatures, ok?! Looking back I’m wondering why I don’t have Bobby Militello’s signature, as I actually spoke to him the longest. His advice of practice as much as you can whilst you’re young fell on naive ears, yet I remember him telling me he personally dropped out of law school to pursue jazz. All three were gentlemen. Unfortunately Dave rushed through the crowd straight to his tour bus, only managing to sign a handful of LPs and merchandise on the way. I’m sure If I’d made more of an effort I could have got it, but oh well. I’ll always have the music.
The tour was a promotion for his new CD at the time, Park Avenue South, which was recorded live at Starbucks. My favourite track on the record was the opening take of On The Sunny Side Of The Street. Dave’s meandering, almost hesitant stride opening that leads to Militello taking over the melody with aplomb blew me away. It’s gorgeous straight ahead playing, Militello in particular shines.
Dave Brubeck’s music was the catalyst for so much more, from Chick Corea to Hank Jones, Tommy Flanagan to Keith Jarrett. If it weren’t for Brubeck I would never have discovered these and so many other pianists. Dave’s music was easily digestible for a young jazz novice, and as I got older I heard deeper meaning and musical invention in his playing – one should never forget he did study composition with Darius Milhaud and Arnold Schoenberg. He knew his performance limitations yet he stretched his musical boundaries to create original innovative and accessible jazz. What a wonderful thing that is.
This isn’t the time to dredge up the controversies which I fear will always follow Brubeck, perhaps I will find the time to help lay some of these issues to rest another day. But I will end on this note: of course Dave Brubeck could swing! He just swung in his Own Sweet Way. RIP.