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Dave Brubeck (b. 1920)
Most of us are familiar with only one of the two DaveBrubecks. The most familiar is the jazz legend, thefather and icon of West Coast 'cool jazz', and founder ofthe Dave Brubeck Quartet. Less well known, however,is the Dave Brubeck who studied with Darius Milhaud(1892-1974), one of the founders of Les Six, who taughtat Mills College after fleeing Nazi-occupied France.
'Milhaud was a genius beyond genius', says Brubeck,'he had an open house every Thursday night, and he'dwant us to come and jam. . .'. Milhaud, with his LaCreation du monde (1923) was one of the firstcomposers to bridge the gap between jazz and concertmusic. It was natural that Dave Brubeck follow suit,only along the way Brubeck's monumental jazz careerovershadowed the other aspect of his musical output.
From the jazz classic Strange Meadowlark to thetwelve-tone inspired settings of Langston Hughes' HoldFast to Dreams, to the pop sound of Once When I WasVery Young..., one is aware of Dave Brubeck's gift as ashaper of melodic line. Brubeck's keen understanding ofthe classical relationship of text and music is apparentthroughout this recording. In addition to setting his ownand Langston Hughes' texts to music, he uses the wordsof Iola Brubeck, his wife of 63 years, and their sonMichael to equally stunning effect.
Dave Brubeck's command of seemingly disparateand dissimilar musical styles is not only impressive andunique, but also well known. Perhaps less well known ishis ability to utilise twelve-tone technique on a songsuch as So Lonely, a technique that in his masterfulhands produces the musical effect of a softly soulful jazzsong.
I first met Dave Brubeck on 11th April, 2002, mybirthday, at a University of the Pacific concert in whichI sang his settings of Hold Fast to Dreams and DreamKeeper (ironically, at the same concert hall where hefirst set eyes on Iola). After the concert, he asked me,'Was that twelve-tone writing?' I just laughed,remarking that it certainly took me a long time to learn.
He responded only with a wicked smile and a twinkle inhis eye. This is the quintessential Dave Brubeck ... loverof life, music and family. About a week after thatconcert, I began receiving a steady stream of DaveBrubeck songs in my mailbox and the idea for thisrecording was born.
With this recording we are hearing the originalversion of The Dream Keeper, heretofore known only asa composition for four-part chorus. In fact Dave hadoriginally set Langston Hughes' moving andinspirational text as a duet. In So Lonely, Dave Brubeckbegins with a lone vocal line, later joined by the pianoand a second voice, ultimately forming a beautifullymeandering - almost living - fabric of sound. Theflowing, unfolding music of Dave Brubeck, togetherwith the moving Langston Hughes texts, seems toconjure a picture of people moving together through thislife toward a common goal.
The centrepiece of this recording is theunaccompanied Tao, borrowed from The Futility ofContention of the Tao te Ching, the oldest scripture ofBuddhist Taoism. Dave Brubeck sent his manuscript tome along with the following handwritten note: 'This hasbeen laying around the house for decades and so Ithought I'd send it to you. You could sing it as a duetwith your wife, or she can sing it or you can sing it. Youcan change the key if you want to ... another option ...
throw it in the garbage!' Needless to say, I did notchoose his last option. He employs the pentatonicoriental scale as a pedestal for the simple, yet profoundwords of Lao Tsu. Using the range of but one octave, hisunhurried rising and falling vocal line seems to mirrorthe tenets set forth in the ancient writing.
While giving concerts in Poland in the late 1950s,Dave Brubeck set Iola's There'll Be No Tomorrow. Hetreats the lovely but rather melancholy sentiments of thetext with such grace and beauty that the listener is almosthappy to be sad. His soulful Chopinesque introductionpermeates the despair of loneliness, longing andresignation.
This recording also captures Dave Brubeck at theheight of his creative powers as an improvisationalpianist. His improvisational accompaniments are sovaried that it often seemed like each take was an entirelynew composition. During the recording sessions, Ifrequently became so engrossed in his improvisatoryintroductions and bridges that I forgot my entrances.
Once when this happened, he said with that inimitabletwinkle in his eye, 'Don't worry, I'll look at you whenit's time for you to come in'.
While Dave Brubeck's jazz compositions haveachieved great fame and well-deserved respect, his moretraditional compositions, though less well documented,deserve no less esteem. His firm and certain grasp of amore traditional compositional style is evident in theseLangston Hughes settings. Dream Dust/Hold Fast toDreams, for example, though set syllabically,demonstrates an almost Bellini-like vocal line shape.
Brubeck's employment of the twelve-tone scaletechniques strikes a genuine unity between the LangstonHughes text and the poignant, spare accompaniment.
The declamation of the text is never distorted, and theconclusion is achieved without ever impeding the song'sflow. He simply succeeds in creating a beautiful songwithout drawing attention to how he did it. Throughouthis work, he has remained faithful to the advice of histeacher and mentor, Darius Milhaud, 'be true to yourinstincts ... sound like who you are'.
This collection of Dave Brubeck's compositionsrepresents but a small sampling of his solo vocal output.
It does, however, represent a broad musical spectrumfrom which he draws to create the Dave Brubeckcompositional language. As he himself has said,'There's a wide range of music you listen to, and you'reborn into. It all reflects on your improvisations.
Everything you've heard in your life can, all of a sudden,pop into an improvisation' - or a song. . . .John David De Haan