In 1973, WC’s then-girlfriend, the Cat Thief, talked WC into attending his first jazz concert. It was the Dave Brubeck Quartet at the Chicago Opera House, and the show opened with the Brubeck/Desmond classic, “Take Five.”
WC was completely blown away. The soaring lead by saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, alternating with Brubeck’s piano chords in 5/4 time, made the piece a completely different experience than the chopped-down Top-40 pablum you hear on the radio. It’s fair to say WC has loved Dave Brubeck’s music ever since.
Among hard-core jazz fans, Brubeck was regarded as something of a light weight, and “West Coast Jazz” was probably the kindest thing jazz snobs said about him. But Brubeck was a superb artist live, an absolutely astonishing ambassador for jazz generally, and a genuinely delightful man in person.
Jazz is pretty personal, but if WC had to recommend two albums from Brubeck’s large body of the work, the first would be “Time Out,” recorded in 1959. It has the hit “Take Five” (composed by Paul Desmond in 5/4 meter and prominently featuring the original quartet’s gifted drummer, Joe Morello). And it has on it “Blue Rondo à la Turk” (composed by Brubeck in 9/8 time). It was the first jazz album to go platinum. And may have been the first album to feature songs not in any traditional time signature. The cover art is pretty cool, too.
Here’s “Strange Meadow Lark” from that album:
The second album WC would recommend is “In Their Own Sweet Way,” a Telarc album from 1997. It’s performed by a different quartet with the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, and later he began working with his musician sons Darius (a pianist), Chris (a bassist), Dan (a drummer) and Matthew (a cellist). Brubeck’s kids are every bit up to the task of playing with the master.
Brubeck told Time Magazine in its 1954 cover article on him, “One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear.” Brubeck lived that principle, His band was integrated almost from the start, and he refused to perform when the venue or forum wouldn’t allow racial integration. He refused to play in South Africa before it became national policy. He’s the pride of WC’s home town and a graduate of Stockton’s University of the Pacific.
WC saw Brubeck live perhaps half a dozen times – twice in Fairbanks – and always with pleasure and delight. The only regret is that he won’t see Brubeck teasing complex rhythms from a piano keyboard in counterpoint to a beautiful sax melody again.
Thanks for all the wonderful music, Dave Brubeck. And if you’ll excuse WC now, he’s going to listen to “Take Five” (a long version) now.