Taking five with Dave Brubeck
As one of the architects of jazz and on tour after more than five-decades, one might think that master jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, at 87, might follow his own musical advice and ‘Take Five.’ Actually, it is still quite the contrary. Two weeks ago the jazz titan got rave notices in concert with in New York with Ramsey Lewis and this week The Dave Brubeck Quartet will be back in Philly performing at Verizon Hall.
Brubeck is not only still recording, he’s composing operas, scoring ballets and is the subject of a new documentary and was also in the nation’s capital receiving an award and attending a jazz symposium at the Smithsonian Institute.
I fumbled my words even in the phone presence of jazz royalty.
LW: Mr. Brubeck, can I call you Dave?
DB: Sure, call me Dave.
LW: What has it been like in Washington?
DB: “Things kept going on and my Brubeck fellows played at Washington University. In fact, I was supposed to be at a rehearsal now. My wife and daughter are there getting things started for me at the Smithsonian.
LW: How were the shows in New York with Ramsey Lewis?
DB: Yeah, at the Rose Hall in Lincoln Center. Three nights in a row- all sold out.
LW: What do you have planned for the concert in Philly?
DB: Well, I always play some of the older songs that identify the group and play the newer ones that the public won’t know too well. And everything in between. We have a lot of new recordings that are about to be released. Sacred things and secular things.
LW: Can you say a few words about your musicians?
DB: Well they are top guys, ah, right across the board there. Bobby Militello, is a wonderful sax and flute player. On bass is the remarkable Michael Moore, on drums Randy Jones who has been with me 30 years. My former bass player retired after 30 years, said he’d been with me half of his life and wanted to be with his family more.
LW: What has it been like in Washington receiving this award?
DB: It’s been wonderful here in Washington. Yesterday we had a symposium with historians, ambassadors and a knowledgeable panel. Then the audience had questions afterwards. Actually, the questions from them were so great that the head of the panel said they should have been up on stage speaking with the others.
They knew all about the state department when President Eisenhower sent us out in 1958. Most people have forgotten those things. This audience got a real retrospective of cultural exchange.
(Mr. Brubeck and his wife Iola wrote a jazz musical for Broadway called The Real Ambassadors.)
LW: You were the real Real Ambassadors.
DB: One person from the audience started describing The Real Ambassadors that my wife and I wrote for Louis Armstrong. They were saying that everybody should own this recording because it documents a period and shows what cultural exchange does. You love to hear that people remember.
That made me feel good and it made me feel sad. We wanted to put the Real Ambassadors on Broadway and the producers I showed it to… loved it, but were afraid of it. And said we were lecturing instead of entertaining. They thought people didn’t want to think about what’s going on in the country and leave feeling depressed.
We eventually redid parts of it at the Monterey Jazz festival. Only one performance
after it was written. My wife narrated it… onstage with my band and Louis Armstrong’s
band, Carmen McCrea and Lambert, Hendrix and Ross.
(he starts to recite lines from the work)
The state department has…discovered jazz
It reaches folks like nothing ever has
When our neighbors call us vermin
We send out Woody Herman
That’s what we call cultural exchange..
Remember who you are and what you represent
Always be a credit to your government
No matter what you say or what you do
The eyes of the world are on you.
Oh…yes..this was our take from a speech given to us at the airport from a man from the State Department. Course, with the audience we had yesterday, were breaking up at it.
It was time for Mr. Brubeck to get to the rehearsal so he signed off. After that there was nothing left for me to do but to listen to my new copy of Take Five.