Dave Brubeck

TrackAlbum
Take FiveTime Out
Blue Rondo à la TurkTime Out
Unsquare DanceTime Further Out - Miro Reflections
It’'s A Raggy WaltzTime Further Out - Miro Reflections
There’'ll Be Some Changes MadeBrubeck and Rushing
Blue DoveBrubeck & Desmond - The Duets
Koto SongJazz Impressions Of Japan
The DukeBrubeck Plays Brubeck
You Go To My HeadJazz At Storyville: Brubeck-–Desmond
Brother Can You Spare A DimeJust You, Just Me

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Contributor: Bert Wright

Neil Young’s blithe assertion that “it’s better to burn out than to fade away” was probably directed at rock fans but jazz afficionados defer to nobody in their admiration for those tortured artists who never made it past the first chorus: Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro, Bix Beiderbecke, Billie Holiday, Charlie Christian among them. So when you encounter a jazz musician who was still playing into his 90s, with five sons playing alongside him, a musician who was one of the first jazzmen to enjoy a massive popular chart hit (Take Five) and lived to receive countless honours, then there are bound to be sceptics who regard such phenomenal success as suspect. Ignore them! They’re simply wrong because Dave Brubeck’s place in the pantheon of jazz, indeed in the pantheon of American music, is at once assured and richly deserved.

Brubeck’s music, in Whitman’s phrase, contains multitudes. Classically trained, he retained an affinity for the great composers like Bach, Mozart and Chopin composing nocturnes, choral and orchestral pieces and playing with some of the great symphony orchestras. Along with Aaron Copland, he shared a strong allegiance to American folk and popular music. In his long career, he played his way through the Great American Songbook several times over. The cool restraint of his playing exudes the intimacy of chamber music but Brubeck could swing with the best of them (listen to There’ll be Some Changes Made with Jimmy Rushing from 1960). He was also a fearless innovator in his use of exotic time signatures, exemplified in tracks such as Blue Rondo à la Turk, Unsquare Dance and It’s A Raggy Waltz.

The Time Out album, recorded on Columbia in 1959, is one of the bestselling jazz albums of all time and Take Five’s introductory rhythmic motif must be one of the most recognisable in all popular music. From the same album, Blue Rondo à la Turk blends 9/8 and 4/4 time signatures irresistibly, with the jagged stabbing rhythm of the opening section giving way to Paul Desmond’s soaring solo before returning to the exuberant 9/8 climax.

Brubeck was fortunate to play extensively with two fine musicians in alto saxophonist Paul Desmond and drummer Joe Morello. Desmond’s delicate wispy alto complemented Brubeck’s pianistic style perfectly but Morello was no less important to the unique style of his greatest quartet; listen to his driving rim-shot drumming on Unsquare Dance.

Another album I play a lot is the later Duets (1975). Lots to enjoy on this album but the achingly simple melody of Blue Dove illustrates Desmond’s and Brubeck’s uncannily empathetic playing at its loveliest. Koto Song (first heard on Jazz Impressions Of Japan ten years earlier) is equally good and if you’re looking for an antidote to a hard day, slip on Duets and pour yourself a stiff one. Works every time.

Dave Brubeck recorded something like 130 albums in his marathon career so it’s impossible to give more than a subjective snapshot of what made him such an extraordinary musician. To complete my toppermost selection of ten cuts, I’ve chosen The Duke, a tune he wrote in 1955 in tribute to one of his great heroes Duke Ellington. When Time magazine put Brubeck on its front cover, Brubeck apologised to Ellington saying, “it should have been you.” You Go To My Head is another favourite tune and on this track Paul Desmond plays clarinet in a particularly lyrical version. I finish with a track from an album recorded in the autumn of his career, the solo piano album entitled Just You, Just Me (1994). On Brother Can You Spare A Dime, Brubeck explores every nuance of the lovely Russian-Jewish melody which Yip Harburg turned into one of the great songs of the Great Depression era.

Dave Brubeck was never going to burn out but nor did he fade away. He was still playing live gigs the year before he died, on the day before his 92nd birthday, on 5th December 2012. Brubeck was a true American original and the corpus of great music he left behind him will endure.

 

Dave Brubeck facebook

The Brubeck Institute

Dave Brubeck Discography

Dave Brubeck biography (iTunes)

In August 1964, the Dave Brubeck Quartet (with Paul Desmond on sax, Gene Wright on bass, Joe Morello on drums) was in London appearing on Steve Race’s Jazz 625 show on BBC TV and you can see this excellent half hour concert here.

TopperPost #175

3 Comments

  1. Peter Viney
    Jan 23, 2014

    A jazz artist with exotic time signatures and hit singles. Wow. I enjoyed this list … I don’t go much further than the two Time Out albums, plus the original singles, which are the first four tracks on Bert’s list, and some EPs. Compare the studio Take Five with the live video here. This live one seems to start faster, as well as being a lot longer, but I also noticed how carefully the studio cut uses volume in comparison … the bass comes in much louder than it ends up, and I don’t think it’s just Eugene Wright plucking more softly. It’s someone on the faders. The bass largely sticks to three notes giving it that insistent minimalist riff that even most heavy metal bass players would be able to play. The short but perfect drum solo in the studio cut is another example of studio production (I say that as a positive). I prefer the studio version.
    We were watching “Silver Linings Playbook” the other evening and “Unsquare Dance” is in there, with again loud bass and handclaps, the bass largely sticking to sets of three note sequences again. That’s mostly what it is. My wife asked what it was immediately, it sounded so good. Unsquare Dance is a two minutes and 3 seconds track. Like a pop single, and it’s just right too. If you play it next to “soul jazz” like Cannonball Adderley’s Mercy Mercy Mercy, it fits.
    Also Dave Brubeck’s Maria gets part of the dance contest in the film.

  2. Ian Ashleigh
    Jan 27, 2014

    Like many, I know Take Five but not much else from Dave Brubeck’s canon, although his name and reputation are legendary. I’ve listened to the ten here and want to hear more. There are 8 albums listed here, seems like a good place to start. Thank you Bert.

  3. Calvin Rydbom
    Feb 5, 2014

    While I have the utmost respect for Brubeck, I do believe you have to give Paul Desmond a lot of credit for much of Brubeck’s finest work. Desmond was considered the co-leader (Jr. capacity) of the Dave Brubeck Quartet from 1951-1967. His contract stipulated that Brubeck could not fire him, and that he received 20% of the bands profits. Desmond and Brubeck reunited for at least 3 albums and a number of tours in the 1970s. I can quickly tell if a version of Time Out or Blue Turk is with or without Paul. In my mine he was a Jr. Partner in those groups and deserves much more credit than he gets.

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