Brubeck Brothers Quartet at Arizona Musicfest
February 7, 2014
Those Brubeck boys really nailed it at Arizona Musicfest, performing a concert-with-commentary tribute that traced their famed father's six-decade career. Dave Brubeck's musical and personal history was celebrated by trombonist-bassist Chris Brubeck and drummer Dan Brubeck, playing his hits and telling the tales behind them, with photos and videos shown on a pair of big screens.
Brubeck's two biggest hits, "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk," brought the strongest response from the audience of 1,600. With "our honorary brothers" (per Chris) Mike DeMicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano, the quartet also played vintage hits including the elegant "Someday My Prince Will Come" from the LP Dave Digs Disney (All Music, 1957).
Chris said the deep groove of "Blues for Newport" was written by their father "in five minutes just before he performed it with Jack Stix on bass and Alan Dawson on drums" at the 1971 Newport Jazz Festival. Other charts with family tales were "For Iola" (Dave's wife) and "Kathy's Waltz," for his only daughter.
The brothers first performed "Bossa Nova USA" as a trio with their dad in 1993. Chris recalled, "It was written in four but we played it in five," referencing Dave's fondness for odd time signatures. The tender instrumental ballad "In Your Own Sweet Way" opened with a duet of Chris on trombone and Lamb infusing dual acoustic and electric piano riffs, followed by a stunning guitar solo by DeMicco.
The quartet, just back from a tour of Japan, played several selections from its 2012 Life Times CD (Artist, 2012). The album was released six months before Dave's death on Dec. 5, which was one day before his 92nd birthday, and prompted tribute performances by the quartet at five major festivals last year. Among the charts was "Jazzanians," which Dan said was written in honor of the so-named multiracial South African student band led by eldest brother Darius.
Chris told how Dave's original "My One Bad Habit" was inspired by a remark that Ella Fitzgerald once made to Dave ("My one bad habit is falling in love") and was sung by Carmen McRae on Dave and Iola Brubeck's 1961 The Real Ambassadors (Columbia). The quartet also explored "The Duke," an Ellington tribute first recorded by Dave in 1955 that showcased the Brubeck tradition of varying time signatures and tempo changes.
The much anticipated "Take Five" was sparked by Dan Brubeck's second-line New Orleans groove in 5/4, and later an extended percussion solo backed only by Chris' repetitive bass line that originally was their father's left-hand work. The 15-minute rendition was an exemplary example of their father's everlasting gift to the sound of jazz.
The most riveting video was of Dave and Iola at the White House when he was named a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2009. It was on his 89th birthday, an event that included a surprise performance by four of his five sons, Chris and Dan, with Darius on piano and Matthew on cello. When the award was presented, President Barack Obama recalled a 1971 concert Brubeck had given in Honolulu, saying, "You can't understand America without understanding jazz, and you can't understand jazz without understanding Dave Brubeck."
For the fourth year, the non-profit Arizona Musicfest will award an annual $2,500 scholarship to a graduating high school senior who has excelled in music performance.