I’ll freely admit that the first time that I saw Dave Brubeck, I really had no idea what a treat I was in for. Out of all of the music that my dad had shared with me, it was the stuff like Dave Brubeck’s music that really dominated his daily musical listening, and it was this music that he was truly passionate about (and since he’s still very much alive, I should point out that it is still Brubeck’s music that drives the bus on Dad’s stereo system).
While Dad had made specific efforts to introduce me to certain groups and artists, Brubeck’s music was something that he probably tried to share with me a couple of times, and being all about the rock, it’s fair to guess that I probably didn’t pay much attention. I wasn’t much into his normal listening material, whether it was Brubeck or spaciously majestic pipe organ recordings that I perceived to be “jurassic stuff.”
Yet it was Dave Brubeck’s music that subtly made an impression on me, with a track like his signature “Take Five,” being enough of an earworm to make me want to know more about the music flowing out of the speakers, and Dad has always been more than happy to properly school me. Perhaps it is his influence that made me a person much like him, someone who is always ready to share information about a band’s entire discography with you in response to a simple question, when really, all you wanted to know about was that one album. We can’t just discuss the one guy – we’ve got to discuss the whole group! You’ve got to know where that sound comes from!
In the early ’90s, I got my proper education on Brubeck’s music when Dave scheduled a summer date at Nautica Stage, which was still an open air stage at the time (they later would add a tent covering the majority of the seating). Shows were held rain or shine which meant that occasionally, you’d get massively drenched, which for a music fan was a small price to pay for the chance to see a legendary show. One show that comes to mind featured Joe Walsh and Glenn Frey, sharing the stage for the first time in many years, a catalyst for the Eagles reunion that would follow a short time later.
It was pouring rain on the day of Brubeck’s show, and I wasn’t thrilled at the prospects of getting soaked at the show. Up to this point, I had been lucky enough to avoid getting caught in the rain at Nautica, and now it seemed almost certain that that streak was about to come to an end. Luckily for me, we got to the venue and found out that they were moving the show indoors, inside the nearby Powerhouse Complex. There couldn’t have been more than 250 people jammed into every available square inch of the room, and Dad and I had front row seats, which in the revised venue, put us mere inches away from Brubeck and his band. It was incredible.
Incredible is a good word to use when talking about Brubeck’s appearance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival. Brubeck’s landmark Time Out release had sold over a million copies. Brubeck had finally arrived after a long journey that included a stint in George Patton’s Third Army, and a helping hand in the formation of Fantasy Records. While serving in the armed forces, Brubeck met his future collaborator Paul Desmond, and the pair collaborated on a number of projects, struggling for success in those early years. After a near-fatal swimming accident, Brubeck formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 with Desmond on alto sax, and a variety of players on bass and drums. The lineup for the Quartet solidified with the addition of drummer Joe Morello in 1956 and bassist Eugene Wright joined in 1958, completing the lineup documented by this 1960 recording.
The Newport appearance came at the beginning of what would be a very productive period for the Dave Brubeck Quartet. At the peak of the group’s activity, they were releasing as many as four albums per year, and Brubeck used the Newport appearance to preview “Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra: Adagio” from their upcoming collaboration with the New York Philharmonic and Leonard Bernstein. Recorded in January, the album (Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein) wouldn’t be released until 1961.
From Wolfgang’s Vault:
Composed by Brubeck’s older brother, classical composer Howard Brubeck, the piece is underscored by Morello’s supple brushwork and distinguished by Desmond’s alto (which one writer once described as “the sound of a dry martini”). Brubeck’s touch is delicate and somewhat jaunty on this subtle swinger, showing a bit of an Erroll Garner influence.
What’s really interesting to me as I listen to this performance from Newport, is how well it lines up with the performance that I saw from Brubeck, 30+ years after the fact. While many performers tend to diminish with age, Brubeck merely continued to defy the odds. The older gentleman that came strolling out to the piano, was still packed with plenty of energy to transmit via the black and whites – it didn’t seem humanly possible, but there it was, right in front of my own eyes. At nearly 90 years of age, Brubeck is still defying those odds, and continues to tour with a schedule that included an appearance at last year’s 50th anniversary edition of the Newport Jazz Festival. (In fact, he holds the record for the most performances at the Newport Jazz Festival. And according to this article, as recently as 2007, he was still stealing the show.)
Listening to this show, it’s a true treasure for music fans of both today and future times, to have the work of an artist like Dave Brubeck so well preserved in both audio and video. The 1960 Brubeck performance is one of the latest gems available from the Newport Jazz catalog for streaming/download. As the Wolfgang’s Vault folks continue to dig through the Newport archives, I’m hoping that we’ll see some more Brubeck performances!
Download/stream this entire performance at Concert Vault by clicking here.
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