December 6, 2010, - 11:31 pm
I’ve been at Detroit Film Critics Society movie screenings all day (more on that later), but I can’t let the day go by without marking the milestone birthday of a great American musician, jazz superman Dave Brubeck. Today, this ultra-talent turns 90. And over his nine decades he’s contributed a lot to American music, for the better (though I definitely don’t agree with his musical protests during the Vietnam War, a noticeable hole in his otherwise positive contributions to America). Brubeck’s sense of rhythm, tempo, and melody–and the ability to arrange them into great sound–is incredible. And he’s a great jazz pianist, in addition. As a composer, he wrote for orchestras and even TV soundtracks, including the “Charlie Brown” specials.
Dave Brubeck, Kennedy Center Honoree, 2009
As a kid, my father–a huge fan of music of all kinds, but especially jazz–passed on to me his love of jazz, taking me to concerts for all kinds of jazz musicians, from Chick Corea to Herbie Hancock to the Georges (Benson and Winston) to the Detroit Kool Jazz Festival. He bought me some very cool CDs (and before that, cassettes) of his favorites. And my dad’s favorite jazz musician, above all, was Dave Brubeck, individually, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, as a group. I have a great deal of Brubeck’s music that I inherited from my dad. And my favorite is the very well-known “Take Five,” which Brubeck, himself, did not write. His partner, Paul Desmond, wrote it for the Quartet, and it’s long since become a classic.
In addition to enjoying the sounds of Brubeck and his Quartet, I love his story–a quintessentially American one. Born to a cattle rancher, he became a musical prodigy despite poor eyesight and had such a great ear for music, he could fake his way, even though he could not read the notes on the sheet music. He was drafted during World War II but his musical performance for soldiers was such a hit, he was ordered to form a band, which performed for the U.S. Armed Forces.
The one thing I detest about this great musical talent–and it is a huge black mark–is Brubeck’s protest of the Vietnam War, having written compositions against it and in memory of Vietnam War protesters who were shot on college campuses. That especially bothers me, since Brubeck, himself, got out of truly serving during World War II by playing in his band. Despite his actions during Vietnam, I still love his music. I just wish the boys who served in Vietnam and World War II, while Dave Brubeck played and composed, all got to live as long as he has. As we know, many did not, while protecting his right to compose, play, and protest. I wonder if my late father, who served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War and rightly despised the Vietnam War protesters, was aware of this. I wasn’t, but suspected it and looked it up because we know that most musicians tend to be lefties, especially during the ’60s. It’s not like Brubeck did Jane Fonda-type stuff. Not even close. But still . . . .
What is your favorite Dave Brubeck piece and why? Does his Vietnam War protest music take away from his talent?
Tags: 90, Birthday, Dave Brubeck, Dave Brubeck Quartet, Happy Birthday, Jazz, Paul Desmond, Take Five, Vietnam War, World War II