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

By Published: January 28, 2004
AAJ: And everyone's in music except for the cowboy...

CB: Yeah, Mike's the cowboy—well, cowboy on the east coast—and my sister Kathy's not a musician either. She's busy raising three children. I think our quote-unquote "spiritual paths" are so involved with music, but with hers, she got literally into a Christian spiritual path, and that's the main defining thing in her life, that and her kids.

AAJ: (going back to notes, shaking head) That's so would you know what it's like not to be a Brubeck? I mean, DUH...

CB: You would have some idea, but yeah... It's also interesting in terms of Dave and movies and the myth. Sometimes—especially now that the Brubeck Institute is going, Clint Eastwood is honorary chairman—he and his wife are more involved than just "honorary on the letterhead" kind of people—I wonder if someone bothered to make a movie about Dave's life, would it be considered too boring? You're starting with a cowboy, living on a ranch, and how he ends up—long hours in the saddle, and developing polyrhythmic feelings against the horse—and his mother being a piano teacher in this one-horse town and his father being an anti-culture cowboy—hatin' all those high—falutin' guests. His mother would try to invite people from the San Francisco Opera Company to come up, and he'd do his best to scare the shit out of them and make them leave.

AAJ: (laughing)

CB: Oh, he'd tell stories about rattlesnakes all through dinner, and then he'd hide ropes in the bottom of their beds and alarm clocks. It's like the Addams family or something—totally out there. I didn't know Grandpa Pete, Dave's father, that well, but later, at the point when Dave was even on the cover of Time magazine, and tried to get him to see a concert, "well, whaddya think of that concert?" "That's the damndest bunch of noise I ever heard in my life!" Then Dave goes on to WWII, and got through the whole thing, writing those pieces for the Pope, and studying with Darius Milhaud, he's done everything.

AAJ: Dave wrote for the Pope?

CB: Yeah, when the Pope had his big tour of America at Candlestick Park. We were all there, he was riding around in the Popemobile, and Dave had a special piece he wrote for him that was performed there—one of his many cantatas, major pieces for choir and orchestra, it's his Mass, which is a beautiful piece of music. And not only that, my dad converted to Catholicism after writing that piece. His spirituality was so intertwined with that, and I know part of it was he actually dreamed parts of it. It just came to him in such an inspired way that he thought, well, something must be going on here (laughs).

AAJ: I noticed that you guys are very funny—you and Dan. Was there a lot of humor in the family?

CB: Dave used to be unbelievably shy, like "barely-able-to-introduce-people-on-stage" shy. But now in his older years, there are times when he gets what I call the Will Rogers Syndrome—he'll tell these stories that are sloooowly spoken. One of my favorite Clint Eastwood movies is "The Outlaw Josie Wales," and you know how Chief Dan George is so funny in that movie? He speaks kind...of...funny...and...slow, and Dave's got that thing going. It makes it all funnier—that sort of arhythmic approach to the punch line. He can be hilarious. He loves stories. And with six kids, there's no only child syndrome going on...

AAJ: (an only child) Tell me about it....

CB: Oh... speaking of psychological baggage! (we laugh)

AAJ: Did he really get the polyrhythmic ideas from being in the saddle?

CB: Absolutely. That's what he says. And from other places. He grew up on this 40,000 acre California ranch—his dad was the foreman—which means he's hired to be the caretaker. Sometimes you'd ride for six miles in the broiling sun. There was a place that had one of those weathervane things that pumped water, and Dave said that was the only shade for miles. He'd sometimes take a break and go hide under the shade, and then he'd hear the pump and the rhythms it made—sort of a 3 against 2 kind of thing. So he says that was a lot of it. Also, he was dying of boredom—your only friends are the cattle. And he had this mother playing classical music, and the mother was like kooky enough that when she was pregnant with all of her kids—she had three —she would practice all the time with her abdomen on the keyboard, believing in prenatal influence.

AAJ: Hmmm...they do that now.

CB: Well, it's probably conducting sound—water, and placenta fluid, or whatever you call it (laughs). Dave grew up hearing Chopin, probably got a head start on it. But it was a huge disappointment to Grandpa Pete. "Damn sissy musician—I wanted a cowboy, for God's sake!!"

AAJ: Is there anything particular you want people to know about you? Anything you want to opine about? This is your chance for a polemic.

CB: (Laughs) Uhoh—that "too much freedom" thing. I want people to be aware of all the great musicians on the boat. I feel very fortunate to be part of the jazz community—for me, just to be a bassist or trombonist—and to have an awareness that I'm doing all this other stuff.

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