Time still changes for Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck

by Seth Rogovoy

(LENOX, Mass., September 2, 2004) – It’s the time changes more than anything that Dave Brubeck hates. As an internationally-renowned jazz superstar, Brubeck, 83, is constantly shuttling around the globe, flying from place to place, concertizing here and there, and then going on to the next city or continent.

Last week it was Sicily to Ravinia in Illinois and then back to Italy. The week before it was Stockholm to California, including seventeen hours in transit, with a nine-hour time difference. And when he’s done with his curtain-closing appearance at this weekend’s Tanglewood Jazz Festival on Sunday night, Brubeck takes off the next day for Amsterdam.

“I really feel lucky that I’m able to keep going,” said Brubeck in a phone interview during a rare layover at home in Connecticut earlier this week, “but it’s the time changes that are knocking me out.”

Brubeck laughs at the suggestion that there might be some irony that these days he’s kvetching about time changes, when he pretty much owes his career to them, albeit time changes of a completely different kind -- the metrical, musical, irregular time signatures that powered his most famous recordings, including “Take Five,” “Unsquare Dance” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” The titles of his albums alone tell volumes about the significance of time in Brubeck’s work: “Time Out,” “Time Further Out,” “Time In,” “Time in Outer Space,” and, stated most plainly, “Time Changes.”

As he often has done in the past, Brubeck pays tribute to his composition teacher at Mills College, Darius Milhaud, for instilling in him an appetite for music and rhythms beyond the core Western repertoire that was the mainstay of a conservatory education at the time he studied music.

“Darius told me to travel the world and keep your ears open,” said Brubeck, “and I’ve done that. He did that in Brazil when he was a young man. All that wonderful music with the Brazilian influence. He always believed in jazz being America’s main music, and so he was always interested in what we combined it with in classical. I think him telling me never to give up jazz, to do both -- that helped a lot. I did travel the world and did things like ‘Blue Rondo a la Turk’ and ‘Calcutta Blues.’ I’ve always been interested in almost every kind of music.”

Even before Milhaud opened his ears, Brubeck heard music that proved to be quite influential on his first trip to Europe, courtesy of the U.S. government, which sent young Brubeck to Northern Europe in uniform in 1944.

“During World War II, I’d hear gypsy music that’d be so difficult and complicated and played so well,” said Brubeck. “Around a campfire in total darkness you’d run across these Gypsies playing music you just couldn’t believe. That music is out there all around the world, in Africa and the Middle East. And those things stick with you.”

Being in uniform had another influence on Brubeck, who grew up on a cattle ranch in California and who first attended college to become a veterinarian before changing his major to music. On his recent, solo piano album, “Private Brubeck Remembers” (Telarc), Brubeck pays tribute to the music of the time, songs like “Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me,” “The Last Time I Saw Paris” and “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To” that comforted many soldiers at the front and their loved ones back home.

Brubeck had a special relationship to many of these songs, which did more than comfort him. They may have saved his life. Private Brubeck belonged to an outfit stationed outside of Verdun that was going to be sent to the German front to replace a previous corps that had been almost totally wiped out.

As Brubeck recounts in the liner notes to “Private Brubeck Remembers,” the day before he was scheduled to ship out, some entertainers from the Red Cross arrived along with a truck that served as a stage with an upright piano. When asked if anyone could play the piano, Brubeck raised his hand, and wound up accompanying the singers.

“The next day I was supposed to go the front,” said Brubeck, but the colonel in charge called out his name and those of two other musicians whom he had decided to hold back in order to form a band.

“I was very fortunate that this colonel just didn’t want me to go to the front,” said Brubeck. While he didn’t see combat from that point on, he and his fellow musicians, who spent the rest of their tour of duty as the Wolf Pack Band – the name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the German submarine fleet -- did once find themselves lost behind enemy lines.

“In the Bulge, we didn’t know where ‘behind’ was, and we got surrounded,” said Brubeck. “But again I was lucky.” He and his bandmates hunkered down and listened to radio broadcasts of Axis Sally playing “Lili Marlene,” a version of which Brubeck includes on his new CD.

Brubeck’s long history with the Berkshires goes back to his frequent sojourns at Music Inn in the 1950s, where he’d perform while spending weeks or months there with his wife and family. He spent so much time in the region that he came close at least once to buying a house here.

For this weekend’s concert, which takes place at 8 at Ozawa Hall, Brubeck performs with his quartet, featuring bassist Michael Moore, drummer Randy Jones, and Bobby Militello on reeds. The quartet will also be accompanied by a 23-piece chamber orchestra, or “symphonette,” on several numbers, including “Brandenburg Gate” and a new piece called “Regret.”

For reservations call 888-266-1200.

[This article originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on September 3, 2004. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2004. All rights reserved.]

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