Remembering Dave Brubeck in the Berkshires
We’re re-posting material in the wake of Dave Brubeck’s death Dec. 5, 2012, the day before his 92nd birthday. Dave Brubeck performed in the Berkshires throughout his legendary career, from the 1950s at the fabled Music Inn in Lenox to a 2009 Pittsfield CityJazz Festival performance at the Colonial Theatre.
Mr. Brubeck’s last performance in the Berkshires was a presentation of BerkshiresJazz.org, which afforded us the opportunity, as a member of the organization, to shoot some video during the afternoon rehearsal, where he prepared for his duet with high school student Sam Landes on Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train.
Dave Brubeck rehearshing “Take the A Train”
Dave Brubeck at 2002 Tanglewood Jazz Festival
September 1, 2002 performance review by Dave Conlin Read.
Three tunes into his 2½ hour 2002 Tanglewood Jazz Festival concert, Dave Brubeck said, “I like to introduce new stuff when I play here because the audience is so kind.” Makes you wonder if “here” referred to the seven year old Ozawa Hall where tonight’s gig was, or the Koussevitsky Music Shed, which opened when he was 18 in 1938, or just hereabouts, which would include the site of the fabled Music Barn and the Lenox School of Jazz, where he performed and taught during the 1950s. Regardless, what a treat it was to be in the audience while Dave Brubeck is introducing new material!
That new song was Crescent City Stomp, and it was built around an infectious beat established by drummer Randy Jones, a beat Brubeck said you hear all over New Orleans. Bobby Militello’s saxophone was the featured instrument after the drum intro and Brubeck himself was the most enthused member of the audience for a while, as he would be throughout the evening, whenever his bandmates took their many solos.
Rounding out the quartet, all dressed smartly in dinner jackets and black slacks, was bassist Michael Moore, who plucked and bowed several eloquent passages from his bass, which his languid body fairly enfolded. There were times when you’d think Moore was a ventriloquist for the cleanly enunciated lines he drew from his instrument, but an inartful one because all the while you could see his lips moving! (Read comprehensive bios of the band, from Hedrick Smith’s PBS show “Rediscovering Dave Brubeck.“)
Introducing the evening’s first tune, Brubeck said that for fifty years he started concerts with St. Louis Blues, but tonight would start with the title tune from his current release, “The Crossing.” He told about a trans-Atlantic jazz cruise with about 100 musicians aboard the QE II, which got underway on the Hudson, passed the Verazzano Narrows and into the Atlantic, ” – and we worked up a head of steam, which I hope we do tonight.”
The tune was some piece of magical mimicry; it was easy to imagine a grand ship honking and chugging away from the pier and soon enough finding its way into rough waters evoked by churning bass notes, then Brubeck took the helm playing long melodious lines, the ship rocking smoothly through eddies and swells.
In telling us that on September 21, he’ll celebrate his 60th wedding anniversary, Brubeck introduced the next tune, All My Love, a translucent ballad that had him hunched over the keyboard, his eyes only inches away from his hands playing so few notes that you could count them.
After The Crossing, came the haunting Elegy, an intimate composition that Ozawa Hall was designed for, where it seems to become part of the ensemble. Continuing in that vein, Brubeck introduced Don’t Forget Me with a few minutes of distant romantic lines that suddenly turned immediate and raucus with another of Militello’s expansive sax solos, and then had Brubeck’s hands flying all over the keyboard before he returned to the lonely little melody that he began with.
This was a very special evening of jazz, a million miles away from being a museum piece, every tune imbued with freshness and vigor. Brubeck’s age was apparent only when he stepped over to the mic, which he did several times to introduce tunes during the first set, which was probably pre-arranged as opposed to the second which I think he made up from the bench as he went along.
It began with Pennies From Heaven, dedicated to the people on the lawn who were being rained upon lightly. Brubeck played out the celestial theme in the next two tunes, Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and Sunny Side of the Street, developing each while the band listened to hear where they were going. Militello’s flute solo on – Rainbow was ineffably sublime. Sunny Side – was rollicking, and at one point Brubeck pointed toward Moore and drew a circle in the air, indicating another round of solos for all.
The audience responded to the celestial set with thunderous applause, which the quartet accepted graciously and which Brubeck seemed overwhelmed by, his grin so broad as he looked into the audience and then around to his band to spread out the acclaim. After his fans got quiet again, he mischievously noodled a few lines from Singing in the Rain then broke into the first notes of Take Five, the Paul Desmond composition from “Time Out,” the world’s first million-selling jazz record.
It was a thrilling rendition, featuring Militello’s slow reinterpretation of the theme before returning it to a rambunctiousness that Brubeck brought to a gleeful level which Randy Jones exploded with a virtuoso display of drumming. Brubeck brought the tune back to earth and then Jones laid down the tastiest little drum coda for the ultimate punctuation to this landmark of jazz.
Sustained applause brought these giants back on stage, Brubeck played a few notes of Brahm’s Lullabye to everybody’s amusement before the quartet re-loaded for Take the A Train, which was a rumbling jam session, the sea cruise of two hours earlier long over. It went on until Brubeck, answering a questioning look from Militello, raised his hands from the keyboard, turned them into pistols and fired a volley into the air.
This performance was a slice of jazz for the ages, delivered by the ageless gentleman genius Dave Brubeck and his virtuoso sidemen, each of whom was brilliant tonight.