Yesterday, we all got word that Dave Brubeck passed away just shy of his 92nd birthday. All across the news media and the jazz blogosphere, critics, scholars, and musicians have been paying tribute. (c.f. NYTimes, NPR, Washington Post, LATimes, The Telegraph)
On Oxford University Press’s blog, Ted Gioia says:
He was a pioneer on civil rights, threatening to cancel concerts when faced with complaints about his integrated band. He served his country as a soldier (at the Battle of the Bulge) and as both an official and unofficial ambassador. When Reagan met Gorbachev, Dave Brubeck was there, bringing people together with his music. I’ve talked to many of his friends over the years, and they tell stories of his kindness and loyalty. You could a learn a lot from Dave Brubeck just by watching how he conducted himself offstage. And then there is the public side of his music career, with all those concerts and recordings that reached tens of millions of people. I was privileged to know him, but many who simply experienced his artistry through his music will also miss him and grieve at his passing. God bless you, Dave!
I thought I would follow Gioia’s example and talk about my own relationship to Brubeck’s music. Although I never had the pleasure of seeing Brubeck in concert, I spent much of my teenage years listening to my father’s Time Out LP. You see, Brubeck was one of the few jazz recordings that I found in my father’s record collection (wedged between Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles), which I think says a lot about how extensive Brubeck’s reach was in popular culture. I often listened to Brubeck’s record with my trumpet in hand and wondered how Paul Desmond got such a smooth sound out of his instrument while also negotiating Brubeck’s abnormal time signatures. As an aspiring jazz musician, my father’s LP presented a stark contrast to the flashy difficulty of many of the jazz CDs in my bedroom. Brubeck’s cool demonstrated to me that musicianship came in many guises, and there were many choices out there well beyond the higher-faster-louder paradigm that was surrounding my teenage self. It was an important lesson.
My relationship to Brubeck’s music was as much about knowing my parents’ taste as it was about knowing how they experienced jazz through media. Unlike many of the records in my father’s collection that baffled me (people are different, after all), Brubeck lent my parents a sophistication that was otherwise unavailable to them. I was 14, after all. That experience of putting that record on the family’s record player was so viscerally different from handling tapes and CDs. The warmth of the music that came from those record grooves made me want to explore more of the music of the 1950s and 1960s.
Thank you, Dave, for helping me to know that my father’s musical taste was far cooler than I ever would have guessed.