[From the diaries by susanhu. Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond … now you’re talkin’. Is George Shearing okay too?]

Lots to talk about this week; we’ve got news of efforts to get Jazz musicians back home to New Orleans, a profile of Dave Brubeck for his 85th birthday, and the rest of the jazz birthday list for 2005.  So pull up a chair, bring your favorite beverage over from the FBC, and let’s get going…

Jazz Musicians and Habitat for Humanity Plan “Musicians’ Village”

As reported by the Associated Press on Tuesday, New Orleans natives singer Harry Connick Jr. and saxophonist Branford Marsalis have teamed up with Habitat for Humanity to create a “Musicians’ Village” for jazz artists that lost their homes to hurricane Katrina and the resulting floods; over $2 million has already been collected.  The project will consist of a neighborhood built around a music center where musicians can teach and perform.

“There’s a ton of musicians who have no place to go…” – Harry Connick Jr.

While Habitat cannot reserve houses specifically for musicians, and non-musicians would also live in the musicians’ village, musicians who lost their houses and have no or too little insurance — and will provide labor for a Habitat house — will be asked if they’d like to live there.  Jim Pate, executive director of New Orleans Area Habitat for Humanity, indicated that musicians could “…do some of their sweat equity by doing performances or concerts for some of our volunteers who are coming from all over the world.”

It’s a fantastic idea.  So many musicians have moved out of town. And a lot of the good ones, too, which is really depressing…” – Banu Gibson, jazz vocalist

A location hasn’t been chosen yet, and funds are not yet on hand for the complete project (in case you’re looking for a year-end tax contribution idea).  The music center will be named for Ellis Marsalis, the jazz pianist and educator who is father of the musical family that includes Branford, Wynton, Delfeayo and Jason.  Habitat for Humanity said it hopes to build 250 to 500 houses in the four parishes of metropolitan NOLA, and possibly as many as 200 in the musicians’ village.

“We desperately need them back, because they are the soul of our community, or much of the soul of our community.” – Jim Pate

A drop in the bucket, as blksista’s powerful reporting reminds us (most recently here, here, here), but in these evil days it looks like it’s up to us in large degree to get the ball rolling (see kansas’ recent diary for one place to start).

More below the flip:

*    *    *    *

Charlie Hunter

A few weeks ago I mentioned I was listening to “Friends Seen and Unseen” by the Charlie Hunter Trio (2004).  So that seemed like as good a reason as any to talk a bit about him here this week.

…but he was pre-empted by the story above.  So we’ll try again next week. ;-D

*    *    *    *   

Jazz Birthdays

Here are the rest of the Jazz Birthdays for the month of December:

12 December
Alex Acuña. Born 1944.
Toshiko Akiyoshi. Born 1929.
Grover Washington, Jr. Born 1943.

23 December
Chet Baker. Born 1929.
Frank Morgan. Born 1933.

24 December
Woody Shaw. Born 1944.  

25 December
Bob James. Born 1939.

26 December
John Scofield. Born 1951.

28 December
Earl “Fatha” Hines. Born 1903.
Michel Petrucciani. Born 1962.
Ed Thigpen. Born 1930.

29 December
Joe Lovano. Born 1952.

*    *    *    *

Dave Brubeck

Tuesday was a busy day in the jazz world – not only for the NOLA announcement above, but also in that Dave Brubeck was 85 on Tuesday.  So it’s an appropriate occasion to introduce him to those who are new to jazz, and maybe point out some insights to those who’ve heard his music before (I know that – as always – I’ve learned a lot pulling this together).  And I think you’ll find the two stories have deeper links than you might at first expect.

Dave Brubeck was born in 1920 in Concord California, a small town near San Francisco. He was the youngest of 3 sons, all of them musical. Brubeck began to improvise tunes at age 4 (his mother, a pianist, jotted them down). The family moved to a ranch when he was 11, and in that period of relative isolation he listened to jazz records and continued learning his way around the piano. Even though Dave’s father wanted him to be a rancher, or a veterinarian, Dave chose music as his path.

Brubeck was nearly expelled from music school when one of his professors discovered in his senior year that he could not read sheet music. Several of his professors came forward arguing for his ability with counterpoint and harmony, but the school was still afraid that it would cause a scandal, and only agreed to let Brubeck graduate once he promised never to teach piano.

After graduating from the University of the Pacific in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the army and served overseas in George Patton’s Third Army during the Battle of the Bulge. He played in a band for the troops, quickly integrating it. He returned to college after serving nearly 4 years in the army, this time attending Mills College and studying under French composer Darius Milhaud, who encouraged him to study fugue and orchestration but not classical piano. (Oddly enough, most critics consider Brubeck something of a classical pianist playing jazz.)   He was one of the first to use polyrhythms, and classical forms such as cantatas, fugues and rondos in jazz, much of which he learned from Milhaud.

He began playing with west coast musicians, including Paul Desmond and Cal Tjader, but did not find the right combination until he formed a quartet in 1951 consisting of Joe Dodge on drums, Bob Bates on bass, Paul Desmond on saxophone, and Brubeck on piano. They performed at San Francisco’s Blackhawk nightclub and gained great popularity touring college campuses, recording a series of albums with such titles as “Jazz at Oberlin,” “Jazz Goes to College” and “Jazz Goes to Junior College.” In 1954 he was featured on the cover of Time Magazine, an event that was a mixed pleasure for him, as the San Francisco Chronicle reports:

In 1954 Brubeck landed on the cover of Time magazine — only the second jazz musician to do so, after [Louis] Armstrong. Brubeck was the face of jazz, Time declared.

On the morning of Time’s publication on Nov. 8, [Duke] Ellington knocked on Brubeck’s door — they were on tour together — and handed him the issue. “You’re on the cover of Time,” Ellington said.

“It was the worst and the best moment possible,” Brubeck told interviewer Hedrick Smith for PBS a few years ago. “I was so hoping that they would do Duke first. … He was so much more important than I was.”

In the mid-1950s Bates and Dodge were respectively replaced by Eugene Wright and Joe Morello. Eugene Wright is African-American; in the late 1950s Brubeck cancelled many concerts because the club owners wanted him to bring a different bassist. He also cancelled a television appearance when he found out the program intended to keep Wright off-camera.  Again from the profile in the SF Chronicle (part 1 and part 2 – and a big THANK YOU to Cali Scribe for telling me about it!):

“Playing in the South was eye-opening,” he said. One of his most memorable experiences took place in 1958, when he appeared at a college in Georgia to perform. Minutes before show time, the dean told him the black bassist “can’t go on.” So Brubeck shot back: Either the bassist performs or the show’s off.

At a North Carolina college that summer, the same thing happened: A dean told Brubeck five minutes before show time, “You can’t play with a mixed group.”

“After that,” Brubeck said, “police would meet us at the airports and escort us to the universities.”

Refusal to accept the colleges’ terms led to 23 cancellations of his 25 shows that summer, costing an estimated $40,000. But Brubeck held strong.

“Jazz is the voice of freedom,” he said. Another cancellation was at Louisiana State University, whose president told The Chronicle in 1960, “We have no integration down here.”

Also that year, Brubeck’s agent received a cancellation letter from Memphis State University: “This is to inform you that a mixed group is unacceptable at Memphis State.”

“The trouble is not with the students,” Brubeck told The Chronicle at the time. “It’s with the state college officials who do not want to be cut off from state funds over this matter.”

Despite cancellations, Brubeck’s insistence on integration became a calling card: Atlanta’s top black club-owners invited the band onstage.

In 1976, he rejected another hefty paycheck — $17,000 to play South Africa — because the contract required an all-white band. “We couldn’t consider it,” he said.
“The promoter kept asking me to play,” he added, “but only with white musicians.” Eventually Brubeck persuaded him to allow an interracial group, but police showed up at the theater with dogs on leashes.

Brubeck’s wife, turning in the front seat, recalled a threat she’d received in Johannesburg that night. “I got a call during sound check. The guy said Dave was going to be shot during the show,” she said.

But the performance went smoothly, and to this day, the couple fight prejudice in jazz. In 1961 they co-wrote “The Real Ambassadors,” an anti-racism composition that premiered with Louis Armstrong at the Monterey Jazz Festival, and Brubeck’s 1969 “The Gates of Justice” met with bellowing applause.

In 1959 the Dave Brubeck Quartet released “Time Out,” an album their label was hesitant to release. The group’s previous albums had been successful without breaking new ground, and this album – which contained all original compositions, almost none of which were in common time – was seen as a risk.  (Common time is 4/4 time: four beats to a measure, and a quarter note gets one beat.)  Nonetheless, on the strength of the pieces in unusual time signatures, the album quickly went platinum.  The album included two of the group’s best-known works, “Take Five” (in 5/4 time) and “Blue Rondo A La Turk” (in 9/8 time):  

“Joe Morello was playing and then improvising off of that [5/4] beat backstage and Paul would pick up his horn and start playing against it,” Dave remembers. “And I said, ‘There’s a tune I want to get into this album because it’s in 5/4 time. So I said ‘Paul, write down some of these things that you’re playing against Joe’s beat.’ So he came to rehearsal and I said, `Did you put anything down?’ And he said, `Yeah, I put a couple of themes down.’ So he played one of ’em, then he played the other. And I said, ‘Look if you repeat this one and then use that second theme as a bridge and then go back, you have the typical jazz form or the thirty-two bar form, which is A section, repeat A section, B section – which you call the bridge – and go back to A.’ So that’s what we did.’ And with that, Take Five was born.”

The quartet followed up its success with several more albums in the same vein, including “Time Further Out” (1961), “Time in Outer Space,” and “Time Changes.” These albums were also known for using modern abstract paintings as cover art, featuring the work of Neil Fujita on “Time Out,” Joan Miró on “Time Further Out,” Franz Kline on “Time in Outer Space,” and Sam Francis on “Time Changes.” A high point for the group was their classic 1963 live album “At Carnegie Hall,” described by critic Richard Palmer as “arguably Dave Brubeck’s greatest concert”.

The quartet broke up in 1967 except for a 25th anniversary reunion in 1976; Brubeck continued playing with Desmond and then began recording with Gerry Mulligan. Desmond died in 1977 and left everything, including residuals and the immense royalties for “Take Five”, to the American Red Cross. Mulligan and Brubeck recorded together for six years and then Brubeck formed another group with Jerry Bergonzi on saxophone, and three of his sons, Dan, Darius, and Chris, on drums, bass, and keyboards. Brubeck continues to write new works, including orchestrations and ballet scores, and tours about 80 cities each year, usually 20 of them in Europe in the spring. In recent years his quartet has included alto saxophonist Bobby Militello, bassist Alec Dankworth (who replaced Jack Six), and drummer Randy Jones.  He spent his 85th birthday performing in London as part of a European tour.

An excellent website with a lot of good commentary on the man, the music, the history of the times, etc, can be found at: Rediscovering Dave Brubeck (PBS, 2001).  The site includes downloads of their pieces “The Crossing,” “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” “The Duke,” and “Three To Get Ready.”

“The first thing that comes to mind when I think of Dave is, he’s always looking ahead… The range of his compositions, at this age as well, continues to be pivotal.” – jazz critic Nat Hentoff

Like all of us, Brubeck has been caught in the rip currents of race relations in America in the post-World War II period.  Initially, he benefited from acclaim as a talented white jazz musician in an era when “respectable [white] folks” didn’t listen to “black music.”  He challenged that prejudice (as seen above) but by the 1970’s was receiving criticism from the opposite quarter, as some black artists and critics felt he had received too much credit at the expense of artists like Miles Davis, who were also pushing the boundaries at the same time.  He weathered that as well, and helped bring about a jazz scene where today we think it quite natural to see Harry Connick Jr. and Branford Marsalis working together on behalf of jazz musicians (of any and all races) affected by Hurricane Katrina.  With the evils we face today it’s sometimes easy to forget that a mere 50 years ago such an act would have been seen as somewhere between scandalous and unthinkable in much of this country.  And so we celebrate this weekend both the music of Brubeck and the acts by him and other artists – and Americans of all walks of life – in speaking truth to power.

Progress is made, but slowly; for lasting progress it takes entire lives of each of us doing the right thing.  Each life becomes a brick in building a sturdy levee against darkness.  Can these levees fail in a dark and stormy night?  Sometimes, sadly, yes (especially if we don’t provide “proper ongoing maintenance”.  But we pick up our tools the next morning and start in again.  Sometimes the tool is a hammer, sometimes a saxophone, sometimes a medical researcher’s microscope or even a blogger’s keyboard.  The tool can be a bumper sticker, a picket sign, a letter to the editor or to a congressman.  Choose your tools carefully and use them wisely, and may your work go well.

0 0 votes
Article Rating