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Dave Brubeck: Jazz Legend

By Published: May 9, 2003
AAJ: The success of the Time Out album in 1959 was incredible. And although the Quartet was already well known, selling a million copies was quite a feat in the jazz world.

DB: It did surprise everyone ' especially the record company since their marketing department kept telling up it wasn't going to sell because of the unusual time signatures in the music. But it certainly made us even more in demand as far as concerts and touring around the world. It seemed like either we were on tour or in the studio for most of the Sixties.

AAJ: That hectic schedule was one of the things that factored in to your decision to break up the Quartet, wasn't it.

DB: Yes it was. I just wanted more time for myself and my family. And I was really interested in writing longer works that required a lot of time to compose.

AAJ: How did Paul, Joe and Gene take the decision to break up?

DB: Well, I gave the Quartet a year's notice, but they just didn't believe it. They were sure I'd change my mind. Because from their point of view, why would you break up something that's so successful? So when I actually went through with it, they were absolutely shocked.

AAJ: It was near the end of 1967 that the breakup became official. But you certainly didn't get the time off that you were hoping for did you?

DB: No, I really didn't. We officially ended the Quartet right around Thanksgiving, and we were back touring again in a matter of four to six weeks with a different group. It wasn't what I had planned for, but I got a call from George Wein, who had really helped my career by booking me at a number of festivals like Newport early on. George was producing a jazz festival in Mexico and had booked my Quartet as the headliner. When he found out I wouldn't be doing the festival, he called me up and told me that our appearance was the big reason the festival was going to happen, and if I weren't there, a lot of guys would lose work. So I thought I'd put a group together just for a few jobs hat would get us ready for the festival in Mexico. That was the group with Gerry Mulligan, Alan Dawson on drums and Jack Six on bass. And it was so successful that we just kept the group together.

AAJ: Talking about Gerry Mulligan, another great musician from the West Coast. He worked with Miles Davis on the great Birth of the Cool Blue Note album, and Gil Evans ' who also got his start on the West Coast, contributed arrangements to that session as well. Yet I think too many jazz critics tend to think of the West Coast jazz musicians from that era ' including yourself ' as all having the same type of sound. As a result, I think they really under value the contributions that West Coast musicians made to the development of jazz.

DB: You know, my brother played with Gil Evans when he had a band in Stockton, California, so I knew him early in his career. And I'm reading a book right now called Central Avenue Sounds: Jazz in Los Angeles . If you haven't read it, it'll open your eyes to how much was really going on with jazz on the Coast. Just as far as piano players, after World War II, 'Fatha' Hines, Art Tatum and Nat Cole were all working in Los Angeles. You can't get much better than that! And that's not including all the musicians in San Francisco and other places. When I was first recording for fantasy, I was also the acting A&R man for them, and I directed them to Gerry Mulligan and Red Norvo, just to name a couple guys. And I know I'm leaving out a bunch of other great players like Shelley Manne and Bud Shank and others. But all the press was in the East and Midwest, so that's just the way things worked.

AAJ: Getting back to those longer musical works, was that a style you had wanted to work in for awhile?

DB: I was thinking about that back when I was in college and in the army. I actually wrote a ballet when I was at Mills College in 1946, and during the war I often though about writing an oratorio. Finally, about 20 years after that in the late Sixties, I finally did get around to writing some longer works. I finished my first oratorio, A Light in the Wilderness, in 1968. I finished The Gates of Justice the next year, and a couple of years after that did Truth Is Fallen. I had bits and pieces of some of them written for quite awhile, but now that I had time to concentrate more on composing, I was able to finish them. And I've enjoyed working on longer works ever since.

AAJ: One thing that has certainly been special for you has been the opportunity to play music with three of your kids. Your oldest son, Darius, plays piano, Chris plays bass and trombone, Danny plays drums and Matthew plays cello. For a time in the 1970s, you had a quartet that included Darius, Chris and Danny called Two Generations of Brubeck. And in addition Matthew, who plays cello, has worked with you on occasion as well as touring with everyone from Sheryl Crow to Tom Waits. Did you ever push them to play music when they were growing up?

DB: No, I didn't. But music was always around them. The Quartet used to rehearse at my home all the time, and once some of the kids expressed interest in playing, I wasn't going to discourage them. I never really expected the ones like who did love music to get as good as they did, and make it a profession. And actually working and touring with them has been something I'll always treasure.

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