Dave Brubeck: The Inspired Moment of Unity
DB: We started with the group Two Generations of Brubeck about six years ago. My sons had their own groups, but they weren't getting that much work. Darius proposed that he open my concerts with the Darius Brubeck Ensemble, which made sense, and then he asked in a few years if his group could be the background for me. At the same time, Chris asked if his rock group could go on the show. It was a lot of fun to have all these great musiciansit was like a festival. Gerry Mulligan, Paul Desmond, Alan Dawson, and Jack Six were in my group, and we had Chris' rock group with excellent players, and Darius' group with fine players like Perry Robinson on clarinet. But I almost had a big band if you counted all the guys. It got to be a real burden financially, so we had to restructure. Finally, I told my sons that wherever we've played with just the four of us, it's been very successful, and we would solve all the transportations problems if we reduced it to that. It was a whole series of events that brought us to the current group. Nothing was planned.
JAA: One of the most interesting things you've done recently was the Duets (Horizon, 1975) album with Paul Desmond. The two of you had been playing together for 30 years, yet you had never before recorded in a duet context. The only thing that ever came close to that was something done long ago on Fantasy Records, called Jazz at Storyville (1955). What took you so long?
DB: Just before Paul died, we were talking about what we had recorded, and he had said that that record, Jazz at Storyville, was his favorite album, more than any of the others. He liked Time Out (Columbia, 1959) and Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy, 1953) and Pacific (Fantasy, 1953) and other things, but that was the album he thought captured what he and I were all about. I knew at the time we were talking it was a really serious appraisal, because Paul was ill at the time. I'm glad you know about that album. It was so spontaneous, and the counterpoint that we were doing was great, and the album just flowed. Later on, we got into other things. You're forced into other areas by the times that are around you. We had to drop that kind of approach to playing when we went with a different rhythm section. Without Joe Morello and Eugene Wright, I don't think we would have had the Time Out series. But we lost something else by gaining that approach.
JAA: I've heard that you spent a lot of time playing in mining camps in California when you were very young.
DB: Angel's Camp, the place that Mark Twain wrote about, Sheep Ranch, Sutter Creek. That was where I started playing way up in the mountains. The first time I played, I was 14 years old, and a woodchopper who was very strong went around to everybody with a hat. He grabbed their hand, and if they'd only coughed up a quarter, he'd just squeeze a little harder. And that the way I made my money that night.
I played in those mining camps, and there were some good musicians in those hills. There was a fiddle player there who was maybe the equal of Joe Venuti. His name was Glen Herzer, and he played lead violin with Harry James when Harry added strings. Then he didn't like the road, and he came back to Angel's Camp. He's 66 years old and still living out there, in Sonoma, California. He came in to play at a joint where I was working in Stockton, below the foothills, and the two guys I was playing with knew him. He had on mining boots and dirty old overalls. And he had a fiddle case. And they said, "We're going to have him sit in." They said, "He's an old miner, but he wants to play." And I said, "Are you kidding?" And he got up and played, and he's the first guy I've ever seen take the bow apart like Joe Venuti did. That's how he started, playing four-voice chords so fastfaster than any guitarist I ever heard. That was his opening riff. He just scared me to death. I've never been any place where I hadn't met somebody who could pop out of the hills and really play.
JAA: Your earliest recordings, those with the octet, are really hard to find. I've heard that the group was very experimental. What were you trying to accomplish with it?
DB: Well, it didn't start our as my group. It was called the Jazz Workshop, and it was just a cooperative of five of Darius Milhaud's students at Mills College. We were really fortunate to be able to study with him, especially me. At the time I was studying with Milhaud, I couldn't read music, so for him to take me into graduate classes was a beautiful gift to give someone so ill- prepared. He was such a prolific composer, and he was among the very first to use polytonality and new rhythmic structures and jazz elements in classical composition.