I SUPPOSE I FIRST heard Dave Brubeck on a recording, undoubtedly an LP, in the fall of 1952, when I was beginning college. I think by then he'd played his epochal date in Eagle Rock, not far away, where (I think) his first big recording Jazz Goes to College was made. Already the big tune was "Take Five," the famous 5/4 piece.
The music is insinuating, clever, lyrical. Later it became significant to me intellectually, when I learned he'd studied with Milhaud at Mills College, and that his music was informed by his study of — gasp — serious music, Bach and so forth. (He loved Milhaud; he named his son Darius.)
Well, Dave Brubeck died this morning, as you must already know, a day short of his 92d birthday, having created, then lived, then survived a Legend. He was the cool intelligent supple patient well-adjusted avatar of West Coast Jazz, that indispensable alternative to Bop — a category that would have saved jazz for the next generation, would have made Rock a silly sidetrack, if only Bossa Nova had not intervened, and convinced the next generation that jazz, all jazz, anything referred to as jazz, was irrelevant, intellectual, over thirty.
The radio stations and the Internet today have made a lot of "Take Five" and, in some instances, of "Blue Rondo alla Turk." The latter especially, at least in the version I heard in the car this afternoon, said a lot about what Brubeck must have learned from Milhaud. Toward the end it almost sounds like Milhaud. There's a curious non-Parisian Frenchness here: wit and pleasure in intelligence without irony, and substance, substance, like something Schumann might envy.
I met Brubeck once, at the Cabrillo Festival, when a Mass of his was performed there — a piece that didn't do a lot for me, but so what. That was thirty-two years ago, August 1980; I don't recall a lot about it. We hardly exchanged three words, I think; though perhaps I interviewed him; I don't know.
I better recall going to the old Black Hawk in San Francisco in the late 1950s — once only; we couldn't afford such things often in those days — to hear him and his Quartet. I remember Paul Desmond put down his alto and took up a clarinet for a couple of tunes. I remember Brubeck was cool, very cool. It was a wonderful night.
There's one Brubeck recording that always sends me into another — what? another plane? It's the last track on an old jazz sampler LP that I got free from the Columbia Record Club in the late 1950s: I Like Jazz. It's true enough that Paul Desmond's alto is a compelling reason the recording's so memorable, has so completely taken over a corner of my synapses; but Brubeck's steady, subtle, modest, generous, knowing, authentic musicianship grounds and enables it. You can hear it here, and I hope you do: it's one of the most beautiful recordings I know..