[Dixielandjazz] Dave Brubeck at age 85

Steve barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Dec 6 13:26:52 PST 2005

For those of us in College (or high school) in the 1950's, Dave Brubeck is
surely OKOM. CAVEAT: If that isn't you, delete now because this is a LONG
two part article from the San Francisco Chronicle.

On the other hand it is a LIVING HISTORY LESSON about jazz and includes a
few references to Armstrong, Ellington, Waller et. al.


US Left coasters might want to see him in March 2006. See note at bottom for
the details of his Berkeley appearance.

Steve Barbone 

Dave Brubeck: Take 85
The jazz pianist first wowed crowds decades ago away with his playful time
signatures. Now in his mid-80s, performing 80 nights a year, he hardly has
the time to slow down.

Daniel King, Chronicle Staff Writer Monday, December 5, 2005

Part I: Performing 80 nights a year, he hardly has the time to slow down

In the Saratoga hills on a Friday night this summer, Dave Brubeck stepped
onstage, cracked open a gospel tune and built it toward a sharply pounding

For the Bay Area-born jazz pianist, climax is just about everything. Tuesday
he'll celebrate another kind -- his 85th birthday - with the London Symphony
Orchestra at Barbican Hall. His wife and kids will be there, but his
thoughts, he said at Villa Montalvo's outdoor theater, will be planted in
his birthplace of Concord.

"It'll always be my home," he said.

The youngest of six children, Brubeck nearly became a cattle rancher like
his father, but things changed when Dave heard Art Tatum on the radio.

While Tatum, Louis Armstrong and others were inventing jazz, Brubeck was
hoping to learn it. Now, some 70 years later, he's the most successful
popularizer in postwar jazz history. In 1959 he became the first
million-seller in jazz, sending "Take Five" into chart-topping orbit; one of
his 1962 albums was the fastest-selling in jazz history; and, among other
summits, he is the first to have three jazz discs on best-seller charts at
the same time. 

Some in Northern California can't get enough. The Brubeck Institute at the
University of the Pacific in Stockton hosts performances daily; the San
Francisco Ballet performed his "Elemental Brubeck" in July; and the Bay
Area's Pacific Mozart Ensemble will offer his "Credo" in April.

"Most of the world knows Dave Brubeck as a jazz performer, but he's also
written a significant body of liturgical music," said Pacific Mozart
Ensemble Artistic Director Richard Grant.

Onstage at Villa Montalvo, Brubeck tore into several uptempo tunes, his
emphasis on thundering block chords and mixed meters, while alto saxophonist
Bobby Militello played cathedrals of fire on the horn, which stood far apart
from Paul Desmond's quieter touch in the '50s.

"It's been a wild 10 days," Brubeck, who lives in Connecticut, told the
crowd of about 1,100 people about his band's cross-country tour. A few tunes
later, he introduced "Koto Song," that tiptoeing 1964 ballad that's perhaps
the greatest of the mid-'60s, and explained after the show, "I'm playing
strictly Japanese folk music."

"Take Five," his signature finale, sent hysteria into the crowd, even though
drummer Randy Jones fell flat. But Militello was his hard-hitting self,
playing a crisply throbbing solo.

After the show, Brubeck and his wife, Iola, drove back to the Los Gatos

"They're inseparable," drummer Jones said of the couple.

"They've had a loving relationship for, God, 60 years now!" added Chris
Brubeck, one of their six children, by phone from Connecticut.

The next morning, the couple boarded a van with tour manager Russell Gloyd.
In New Balance sneakers and thick glasses with Playboy bunnies on the rims,
Brubeck looked ready to roll. He placed a cardboard box under his right
elbow for support and sipped a little water, asking his wife, "You have
everything?" She turned from the passenger seat, her body in a twist, and
answered yes. 

The ride to Sacramento for an 8 p.m. set amounted to a journey through
childhood for Brubeck, who performs about 80 nights a year. You try that.

"Let's ride," he said, the sun poking through the windows as he spoke of the
Bay Area's "gorgeous scenery." He recalled moving at age 11 to a big farm in
the small town of Ione, in Amador County. "It was a real change in worlds,"
he said. "My mother had built a studio in Concord and she hated leaving that

But Brubeck's passion for his new town had grown quickly. After sipping more
water, he glanced at the trees and said to his wife, "Northern California is
still so beautiful, especially when you get into the foothills of Mt.

After cruising at about 80 mph, the van pulled to a stop by a cemetery in
Pacheco, the city 3 miles west of Concord where Brubeck's parents and
grandparents are buried. "Wait a minute," he corrected himself. "I'm not
sure this is the right one." He didn't recognize the entrance, and the gates
were locked. 

The driver asked him to hop the fence for a better look. "Stop it, Russell!"
Brubeck said with a laugh. "I don't want to spend the night in Pacheco

Re-entering the van after braving the 103-degree heat, Brubeck seemed to
hold back tears after failing to spot his relatives' headstones. The
conversation turned to San Francisco's Blackhawk jazz club, his service in
World War II and his trips through the American South.

"Playing in the South was eye-opening," he said. One of his most memorable
experiences took place in 1958, when he appeared at a college in Georgia to
perform. Minutes before show time, the dean told him the black bassist
"can't go on." So Brubeck shot back: Either the bassist performs or the
show's off. 

At a North Carolina college that summer, the same thing happened: A dean
told Brubeck five minutes before show time, "You can't play with a mixed

"After that," Brubeck said, "police would meet us at the airports and escort
us to the universities." Refusal to accept the colleges' terms led to 23
cancellations of his 25 shows that summer, costing an estimated $40,000. But
Brubeck held strong.

"Jazz is the voice of freedom," he said. Another cancellation was at
Louisiana State University, whose president told The Chronicle in 1960, "We
have no integration down here."

Also that year, Brubeck's agent received a cancellation letter from Memphis
State University: "This is to inform you that a mixed group is unacceptable
at Memphis State." 

"The trouble is not with the students," Brubeck told The Chronicle at the
time. "It's with the state college officials who do not want to be cut off
from state funds over this matter."

Despite cancellations, Brubeck's insistence on integration became a calling
card: Atlanta's top black club-owners invited the band onstage.

In 1976, he rejected another hefty paycheck -- $17,000 to play South Africa
-- because the contract required an all-white band. "We couldn't consider
it," he said. 

"The promoter kept asking me to play," he added, "but only with white
musicians." Eventually Brubeck persuaded him to allow an interracial group,
but police showed up at the theater with dogs on leashes.

Brubeck's wife, turning in the front seat, recalled a threat she'd received
in Johannesburg that night. "I got a call during sound check. The guy said
Dave was going to be shot during the show," she said.

But the performance went smoothly, and to this day, the couple fight
prejudice in jazz. In 1961 they co-wrote "The Real Ambassadors," an
anti-racism composition that premiered with Louis Armstrong at the Monterey
Jazz Festival, and Brubeck's 1969 "The Gates of Justice" met with bellowing

When they arrived in Sacramento several hours before show time, Brubeck
walked outside and stretched his legs. "Let's unpack our things," he said.

"The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Dave is, he's always
looking ahead," said jazz critic Nat Hentoff from New York. "The range of
his compositions, at this age as well, continues to be pivotal."

Some 15 hours earlier, about 130 miles back in Saratoga, Brubeck and his
band mates had stood onstage, glanced at the audience, and taken another

"Maybe we'll see you again," he said.

Part II: View: He was anointed a 'king' of jazz while many others were
Brubeck was anointed a 'king' of jazz while many others were neglected

Daniel King, Chronicle Staff Writer Tuesday, December 6, 2005

When jazz reporting began in the early 20th century, the headlines were
tainted by racist attitudes now considered case studies in how not to cover
the music. The most famous incident was in the 1920s when newspapers
declared white bandleader Benny Goodman "King of Swing" and repeatedly
called Paul Whiteman, another white musician, "King of Jazz," even though
far superior black musicians like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Fats
Waller were going strong at the time. The New York Times called Whiteman
"Jazz King of America."

It might seem tempting to explain those incidents of prejudice by
contextualizing them historically: The 1920s and '30s were packed with white
privilege, in and out of print. But the prejudice in jazz journalism only
intensified in the following decades.

Today, Dave Brubeck turns 85. For many jazz fans, the very mention of his
name suggests irony: He's the first million-seller in jazz, who grew up on a
Northern California ranch and took jazz to Eastern Europe, always fighting
for racial justice. Yet for all his activism, he has really taken it on the

Here's why: Brubeck also got crowned as a jazz "king." Many journalists in
the mid-'50s said he was the king of cool jazz, even though Miles Davis is
much more closely associated with the origins of that school of jazz, with
albums that included the groundbreaking "Birth of the Cool."

In 1954 Brubeck landed on the cover of Time magazine -- only the second jazz
musician to do so, after Armstrong. Brubeck was the face of jazz, Time

On the morning of Time's publication on Nov. 8, Ellington knocked on
Brubeck's door -- they were on tour together -- and handed him the issue.
"You're on the cover of Time," Ellington said.

"It was the worst and the best moment possible," Brubeck told interviewer
Hedrick Smith for PBS a few years ago. "I was so hoping that they would do
Duke first. ... He was so much more important than I was."

Amiri Baraka, the cultural critic, wrote in 1963 (as LeRoi Jones) that
Brubeck's Time cover was a symptom of white privilege. "One understands Time
promoting a man like Brubeck," he wrote, adding that Brubeck's cover "would
certainly sit well with the Time editors who could project Brubeck into the
homes of their readers as a genius of New Culture."

"It was the white players who made the front page with jazz," agreed Ralph
J. Gleason, the longtime Chronicle jazz critic, in 1969.

"It helps to know the history," Baraka, now 71, said from his New Jersey
home last week. He pointed out a parallel between Time's Brubeck cover and
the Pulitzer Prize board's "incredible" 1965 refusal to award Ellington its
prize despite the jury's recommendation. It was too late: The board had
decided that jazz was ineligible, a decision now considered one of the most
racist in arts-recognition history. And Time's crowning of Brubeck ahead of
Ellington and Thelonius Monk is another, Baraka said.

Despite Brubeck's resistance to white privilege, he has benefited from it.
In 1948, a Chronicle writer praised him for "doing things to jazz that could
... raise it to a respected form of music."

Years later, in a 1983 review of Brubeck's performance at the Russian River
Jazz Festival, another Chronicle writer described him as "a cool jazz
patriarch with his white mane and all-white garb."

In 1997, the biographer Laurence Bergreen declared Brubeck "the apostle of
cool jazz." For Brubeck's forthcoming appearance at Berkeley's Zellerbach
Hall in March, the presenter's Web site calls him "the king of 'West Coast
Cool.' " 

It's not just Time magazine. The entire culture of jazz reporting in the
1950s and '60s was touched by that privilege. Dan Morgenstern, Down Beat's
editor in chief in the '60s, said in a recent interview that the magazine's
then-publisher, John Maher, "used to say he didn't want too many black
people on the cover. I remember when we put Thad Jones on the cover, and
(Maher) said, 'Do we have to put him on there? He's so dark.' "

Another white Down Beat editor of the time, Howard Mandel, said, "I had
similar things happen at Down Beat."

Paul Eduard Miller, Down Beat's contributing editor in the '20s, '30s and
'40s and Esquire's jazz editor in the '40s, found evidence of that
prejudice. Using the jazz magazines of the period as indicators of editors'
preferences, he compiled statistics on jazz coverage, available for study in
his unpublished book at the Center for Black Music Research in Chicago.

Miller found that Goodman grabbed 500 more article inches than Ellington in
the '30s, and that white drummer Gene Krupa got more space than Armstrong.
Whiteman got more than Waller, Coleman Hawkins and Count Basie, and in the
following decade, Goodman grabbed more than Armstrong, Charlie Parker and
Max Roach combined.

The old question of whether Brubeck deserves coverage is obsolete. Of course
he does. But his media elevation was curiously strong compared to the
delayed praise of the innovators. That's a subject few jazz fans talk about.

But what's most important, especially on his birthday, is what Brubeck has
done, not what the press has done. Since his refusal in the '50s to fire
black bassist Eugene Wright when college promoters demanded it, Brubeck has
fought hard for equality. He canceled TV appearances when producers required

And Brubeck's place in the music is clearly secure: He is one of the first
to use polyrhythms, cantatas, fugues and rondos in jazz, much of which he
learned from French composer Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland.

"It's always dangerous to think you're the first to do anything," Brubeck
said, "but I certainly am on the ground floor of polytonality and

"I learned a lot from him," Cecil Taylor -- the most percussive and
polytonal of pianists -- once told writer Gary Giddins. "When he's most
interesting, he sounds like me."

"The critics didn't want to give me credit," Brubeck said, citing a black
privilege that took over jazz reporting in later years. "They wouldn't touch
what Ellington thought of me, or what Cecil said. Why should these stupid
critics think I'm not doing things right when Ellington supported me? So did
Louis Armstrong and Jimmy Rushing and Mingus. Who's going to go up against

At 85, Brubeck's voice hasn't skipped a beat.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet: With the Ramsey Lewis Trio, 8 p.m. March 15 at
Zellerbach Hall, 2430 Bancroft Ave., Berkeley. $36-$72. (510) 642-9988,

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