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The Son Also Rises: Chris Brubeck, the new Gershwin?

By Published: January 28, 2004
AAJ: This is/was on PBS?

CB: I think it first showed last summer, then showed again this summer. It's getting played a lot. Sadly for me, the cost of each of those artists is so expensive, and it came out when economy just went south. The agents were drooling—we'll make so much money from this!—but you'd be lucky if an orchestra could afford one of them now. Eileen's gone out and done it, and used the Concertmaster for the classical person, with a classical orchestra; you hire one jazz fiddler, most cities have one. Each of them is doing it in a different way, and it's been a ball.

AAJ: Has it been more difficult for you being a Brubeck? Most people would assume that would open every door in the world, and you'd never have trouble getting a recording, or a label...?

CB: It's hard because I haven't grown up with the experience of not being a Brubeck, so I don't know what the converse would be. But it definitely had its bennies—the main thing that's advantageous is that my father's such a good person. I often thought, you know, if I were a Sinatra... you might have certain people loving what you do, kissing your rings as you walk by, but you could also meet someone who says "ya know, my cousin is the one your friend threw through the 50th floor window after you hired me for the night, and I hate you!" I don't run into that too much.

But there is a certain resentment that you do run into for someone who's been so successful as Dave, but anyone that bothers to know him, or to really know the story of his success, realizes that it was completely uncalculated, it was just someone sticking to his pioneer guns. He got rejected by every record company there was, literally every one. He started Fantasy Records—that was actually cookie jar money. When I was a little kid, I remember (kid voice) "can we have dessert, Mommy, I love ice cream!" That's why I'm up always there at the cruise dessert bar — making up for my childhood—"No, honey, we're saving it"—and it was like 1000 bucks in the cookie jar.

I think Gerry Mulligan was involved as well as Dave—in partnership with these guys whose father owned a record company pressing plant. They'd be going into the place late at night, pressing records. Fantasy got some great reviews. Those people later screwed him out of Fantasy Records—as they went on to Creedence Clearwater Revival and produced "Amadeus," that had nothing to do with Dave. He knew he was getting screwed—and then got an offer to leave his own company, and join Columbia.

AAJ: That worked.

CB: That was a good thing, yeah.

AAJ: I've been researching this jazz and psychology interface, and the social myth that you have to be nuts to be a musician, that there's some inherent psychological baggage that comes with it...

CB: I'm too dumb to know that! (laughs) I didn't know you had to be nuts.

AAJ: There's such fascination that people have with the few artists who have had tragic lives. They don't make movies about your dad, they make movies about Bird, and Chet Baker. I always think of your dad as the premier example of somebody who can have a happy family, a long productive career, and grin his ass off on the bandstand—to me that's proof that it's not necessary to be mad to be brilliant. You die early and tragically, and that makes you a legend—instead of someone who's working to be a legend.

CB: I'm sure Dave would've been the way Dave was anyhow, but growing up with Joe Morello and Paul Desmond and Gene Wright—my musical and family uncles, basically, although I had real uncles too who were also musicians—there was an interesting thing. Because being musicians, on the road, you sort of know what the road life was like. Paul was such a witty, hanging-out-at-Elaine's-all-night-literary-drinking-loner-bachelor guy, but I think he vicariously got off on Dave with the family thing. He was always a big-time present giver at Christmas, he really got a kick out of it, and I think in a certain way he could live his life as a family guy, and maybe—I don't know this for a fact, but I imagine it made it easier for Dave to walk the straight and narrow path, seeing all the foibles of the other.

I mean, going straight back to the moment I came into the world, which was kind of a funny story. My mom was very pregnant, and Dave was doing a club gig in LA, and my grandmother on my mother's side, whose name was Myrtle—who was as stern as the name implies—came down to help. There was one car, and Dave was picking up Paul, and then they played the gig, and some lady was flirting with Paul,and by the end of the night when Paul and she planned to go home, she was so drunk that obviously nothing was going to happen—they should just bring her home, no whoopee tonight. She was so drunk, she didn't know where she lived. And so Dave, on the night when my mom was due any second, gets stuck driving Paul around LA trying to sober this lady up enough to recognize where she lived—and my father said he'll never forget the look on stern Grandma Myrtle's face when he comes home about 4 in the morning, with my mom dilating and in labor and "where have you been???" and then I'm almost born in the car on the way to the hospital. So that sort of sums up my theory with some psychological accuracy.

AAJ: Are you the oldest?

CB: I'm the third. Darius is my oldest brother, then my brother Mike, then me, then my sister Kathy, then my brother Dan, and my youngest brother Matthew. Six kids around the dinner table. Nobody wanted to sit next to Dave, because if someone misbehaved, he'd just smack the kid that was sitting nearest to him. (grins)

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