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Dave Brubeck: The Inspired Moment of Unity

Bob Kenselaar By

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The inspired moment of unity is the purpose of jazz.”
[Standing tall with a flowing salt-and-pepper mane, Dave Brubeck had a broad smile and was quick to laugh when I met him in the fall of 1978 at publicist Peter Levinson's New York office for this interview. He was enjoying his tour with the New Brubeck Quartet, the group he formed with his sons. He reminisced about his earliest days in music and his duet recordings with Paul Desmond, and he proudly recalled some compliments he'd gotten over the years from his musical heroes.]

"The first challenge of a jazz performer," says pianist Dave Brubeck, "is to unify the audience so that it becomes an entity. Once this unity of feeling is established, we can begin to share a creative experience. The improvisers become the articulate voice of the group. The inspired moment of unity is the purpose of jazz. It is the moment we may or may not find in a performance—but it is the reason we are here."

Creativity, spontaneity, inventiveness, and inspiration: these are the things Brubeck holds most important in his music—so much so that at times he admittedly has had to sacrifice technical perfection and precise swinging in order to attain his goals. Despite the ambivalence of critics, Brubeck remains one of the most well-known and publicly accepted names in jazz.

As early as 1955, the Dave Brubeck Quartet came to national prominence, and in the '60s, the group recorded the first million- selling jazz hit with saxophonist Paul Desmond's composition "Take Five." During the same time, Brubeck's piano planning became an important influence for young players, as evidenced recently by Chick Corea's musical dedication to Brubeck on his album Friends.

Brubeck's latest musical aggregation is called the New Brubeck Quartet and features his sons Darius Brubeck on electric keyboards and synthesizer, Chris Brubeck on electric bass and trombone, and Dan Brubeck on drums. With this group, Brubeck hopes to "continue the old quartet tradition" but also to strive for something fresh and new.

Jazz in the Aquarian Age: Is the New Brubeck Quartet keeping very busy?

Dave Brubeck: Oh, yeah. For the rest of the year we'll be on tour, and who knows what will happen next year. We've all got our own groups, too, and our own projects. Chris, for example, did an off-Broadway show for which he wrote the music. Danny has a group called Northwind. We're all into our own things, but each year one or two or three of my sons will probably tour with me. I don't ever know who's available, and if none of them were available, I'd go out with Jack Six and Alan Dawson from the old group. There's always somebody who wants to go. I only think about one year at a time.

My sons and I have two new albums out right now—one on Tomato Records called The New Brubeck Quartet Live at Montreux (1977), which is a very nice live concert, and one on Direct-Disk, A Cut Above! (1978), a double album that's selling as fast as they can cut 'em—phenomenal sales.

JAA: JAA: When was the first time you played on stage with your sons?

DB: I was playing with the old group with Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright, and Joe Morello for a big audience—a full house in Poland. My sons Darius and Michael were backstage, and the interpreter asked them if they could play, and they said they could. Darius was 10, and Michael was nine or so. So, the interpreter just kind of shoved them on stage, but when they came on, I turned them around and made them leave. But then the interpreter said, "Go back!" Being little kids, they would mind the last adult that told them what to do, so they came back out.

At this point, the audience expected something, so Michael ended up sitting in on drums, and Darius sat at the right hand of the keyboard with me. We began to play "Take the 'A' Train," but Darius started improvising right away. I told him, "Play the melody, stupid!" When we were finished, there were some reporters around, and they asked Darius what his father said to him on stage. He told them, and the next day it was in the German papers, "Spielen die Melodi, Dummkopf!"

JAA: How did you start playing with your sons professionally?


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