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Jazz in the Aquarian Age

Dave Brubeck: The Inspired Moment of Unity

By Published: April 17, 2012
If there was a leader of the octet, it was Darius Milhaud, in a way, because the idea came from him. He said one day in class, "How many of you play jazz?" We raised our hands, and he said, "From now on, do your counterpoint, fugue, and composition assignments using your jazz instruments." We couldn't believe it, because up until that point in a conservatory, you didn't dare tell your teacher you liked jazz.

Dave Van Kriedt's "Fugue on Bop Themes" was written for a Darius Milhaud assignment, and so were Bill Smith
Bill Smith
Bill Smith
's things. They were very avant-garde, and still are, especially Jack Weeks' "Prisoner's Song." If you want to hear something that will stand up, listen to that. We're going to reissue a lot of those old Fantasy albums.

JAA: Tell me about what went on in the studio when you recorded "Take Five." DB: One day, I told the guys that for the next album we did, I wanted everything in a different time signature, and I wanted to call it Time Out. . . . So, the next rehearsal was typical. No one had anything to speak of except me. Rightfully so— it was my group, and I had to do most of the work. I had "Blue Rondo a la Turk," "Three to Get Ready," "Strange Meadowlark," and a few other things written and ready to go.

Paul came in and said, "I've tried and I've got a couple themes in 5/4, but I can't come up with the tune." So, I said, "Play me what you've got." And he played one them, and I said, "That's great!" He said, "Yeah, but that's all there is to it."

So, I told him to play the other thing he had, and so he played the other theme. I said, "Beautiful! Play the first theme, repeat it, use the second theme as a bridge, and then go back to the first theme. Use as close to an AABA form as you can, and you've got a great tune." So, it kind of developed at a rehearsal, and it was kind of a group thing, but Paul had written the melody, and I wanted to credit him, because there were plenty of things that I wrote that Paul gave me ideas on.

JAA: Are you surprised that some of your own compositions, like "In Your Own Sweet Way" and "The Duke," have become jazz standards?

DB: Yeah, because I had been writing for years and had gotten no place to speak of except in terms of my own satisfaction. . . . It was my friends, Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan, who got me into writing again. And I started writing like crazy when all the musicians that I dug were playing "In Your Own Sweet Way." Miles Davis
Miles Davis
Miles Davis
1926 - 1991
heard me playing it when we were working opposite each other, and he wanted the tune, so I wrote it out for him. But when he recorded it, he played it with an E natural at the end of the first eight bars, which surprised me, because I was always playing it with an E flat. So, I said to Miles, "Why did you play it with an E natural?" He said, "Why did you write it with an E natural?" So everybody plays it differently than I really meant it, because they've all heard Miles play it. And when I wrote it out for Miles, I made a mistake!

JAA: As a final question, where do you see your place in the overall scheme of jazz? How heavy do you think your influences have been in the jazz world?

DB: They're a lot heavier than a lot of the critics think. There are all kinds of guys out there who have played my music and listened to my records and don't mind telling me so. And they don't mind putting it in print. The critics don't seem to be able to read.

JAA: Some of those musicians have been Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
Duke Ellington
1899 - 1974
, Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
Charles Mingus
1922 - 1979
bass, acoustic
, Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor
, and Miles Davis.

DB: Yeah. Once Miles said, "The Brubeck Quartet doesn't swing." Man, that was quoted all over the world. But what Miles said to me one night when he hear me after the quartet had gone home—Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
Ella Fitzgerald
1917 - 1996
came in to sing and it was just Ella and me at the Blackhawk in San Francisco—he came up to me, and he said [imitating Miles' throaty voice], "Your group don't swing, but you swing." It was a nice thing for Miles to say, and those are the things that you're sorry weren't printed. . . .

Mingus and I are old friends going back to the late '40s in San Francisco. . . . I remember the first time I played with him. There was a session where these guys couldn't find any bebop piano players for a gig, so they asked me to do it. I wasn't a bebop player, and everybody in San Francisco thought I was crazy. But they asked me to go along, and they told me not to take any solos. . . . So, the first set in the club I just comped, and once in a while I'd play something behind Charlie. When we took an intermission, he said to me, "Man, you're the only guy here that can play . . . . Next set, you play more."

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