December 5, 2012, - 3:16 pm

Dave Brubeck, Jazz Great (& Anti-War Liberal), RIP

By Debbie Schlussel

Longtime readers know that I’m a jazz fan and especially like the work of Dave Brubeck, tastes I learned from my late father who used to take me to many jazz concerts and gave me his CD collection which includes a lot of Brubeck’s work. Brubeck, a tremendous, prolific talent–both a pianist and composer–died today at age 91. Even if you don’t know of Brubeck, you’ve no doubt heard what he’s most famous for, “Take Five,” which he did not write (it’s in the video below), and you probably know his “Charlie Brown” work. Or his “Blue Rondo a la Turk” (also in a video below).

Dave Brubeck, Kennedy Center Honoree, 2009

When I say I’m a fan of his work, it doesn’t include his anti-War stuff to protest Vietnam. I noted that and what he did during World War II when he turned 90. Here’s part of what I said then:

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. . . .


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 . . . .

Brubeck said he wrote his “Jewish Cantata” a/k/a “The Gates of Justice” because “three Jewish teachers shaped his life – philosopher Irving Goleman, composer Darius Milhaud and Jesus.” But other reports say he wrote it because he was upset over Black-Jewish animosity in the late ’60s. Typical liberal thinking: that a musical composition would overcome Black anti-Semitism against those who, frankly, bent over backwards and gave their lives for Black civil rights: the Jews.

In any event, I have to disregard his politics when appreciating his music. And note that Brubeck was a musical genius, whose great talent and ear are the kind of stuff sadly unrepeated in our society in which the hip hop culture and boy bands now dominate. They don’t make ‘em like they used to. And they don’t make Dave Brubecks.

Dave Brubeck, great American talent, Rest In Peace.

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17 Responses

I, as a rule, don’t admire musicians for their politics, faith (or lack thereof), compulsive behaviours or dietary habits. I respect them for their contribution to the contemporary soundscape that constantly surrounds us.

RIP and Godspeed, Dave Brubeck.

The Reverend Jacques on December 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm

The Charlie Brown Christmas music composer was Vince Guaraldi. Sounds a lot like Brubeck.
Take Five was indeed not written by Brubeck but by his sax player, Paul Desmond, who intended the piece as a showcase for The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s drummer, Joe Morello.

B: Brubeck composed music for other Charlie Brown specials, not the Christmas one. DS

BobOnStatenIsland on December 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Actually, the only Peanuts special that Brubeck made any contributions to was “This Is America Charlie Brown” (1988) which included a few jazzy arrangements of some American standards, like this reworking of “A Bicycle Built For Two”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UNjoQpDBjGA

    After Vince Guaraldi passed away in early 1976, many different composers were hired to work on all subsequent Charlie Brown specials and do their best to duplicate his trademark sound.

    Irving on December 6, 2012 at 1:19 am

Unfortunately, most entertainers, especially in music, are of the Leftward persuasion. It’s in the blood of the creative set.

JeffT on December 5, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Brubeck was a first-class jazz pianist, but my personal favorites are still Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson (the latter from Canada). (Evans’s musical achievements are all the more remarkable given his struggles with drug addiction, which surely shortened his life to about 50 years.) These three will stand the test of time, and people will be listening to and enjoying their music for years to come.

Ralph Adamo on December 5, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Great artists, and I to like his music and work, but as for his political views, well I’m not exactly a fan of it, but so be it as you claimed Debbie. And since I’m a Jazz fan and Big Band Jazz fan, it’s kinda ashame that I don’t have his records, yet, but plan on buying them before they sell out. In any event, RIP Mr. Brubeck, hopefully your in a better place.

“A nation is defined by its borders, language & culture!”

Sean R. on December 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm

he was probably poisoned by that left wing gas bag wally crankcase who lied about every thing related to viet nam.i was a paratrooper during the 1968 tet offensive which wally said was a loss but we wiped out the so called viet cong and rolled over the nva killing over 50,000 of them.but wally and other communist sympathisers just kept squawking loss,loss.i was there and we kicked the crap out of the commies,had we gone north the war would have been over in 3 or 4 months.as for anti-american protesters i wish i could have done to them what i did to nva commies. ds did you hear hillbillary blame the jews for the hamas attack on israel that bitch said that you jews should learn what it feels like to be oppressed.duh

bruce on December 5, 2012 at 5:32 pm

Seems like, as a rule, the music gene doesn’t partner with a heroic gene. Or the common sense gene. Country music has it’s share of tough guys that enjoy waving the flag though. Garth Brooks, and Trace Atkins are two dudes I’d think twice about inviting outside for satisfaction. Not that they’re prone to being offensive.
I don’t get how many white people feel an overwhelming sense of guilt for something had nothing to do with.

samurai on December 5, 2012 at 8:21 pm

Music is the GREATEST GIFT! Well, “Nanu Nanu” Mr. Brubeck and may you R.I.P.

StinkyBird on December 5, 2012 at 10:18 pm

Of course I don’t support Brubeck’s activites against the Vietnam War, and his failure to serve in WW II. But given the tremendous moral authority of the Civil Rights Movement in the early 60s, I think someone could be forgiven for wanting better black/Jewish relations in a general sense, and having a limited understanding of the dynamics of the relationship. It took lots of people a long time to see what was going on.

And much as I deplore Brubeck’s antiwar activities, if that is all he did, it was relatively mild compared with what is going on today, with a major symphony orchestra touring North Korea, and a major world-class conductor supporting Palestinian terrorists and counting Edward Said among his buddies.

Little Al on December 5, 2012 at 10:32 pm

I believe that Dave Brubeck and the music his quartet produced was a completely unique and expression of the jazz art form that greatly elevated it from the norm. Moreover, I believe that time has shown them to be among the greatest jazz musicians of all time. There was a great irony in this reality for both Brubeck and the black culture that gave birth to jazz: Neither he nor the African-American community would ever acknowledge it. As you point out, Brubeck was a guilt-ridden liberal who would never want to offend his “brothers” and his “brothers” would never want to give full credit to the white guy that made most of them sound repetitive and also-ran by comparison.

Charles Thomas Galbraith on December 6, 2012 at 12:52 am

As a life long Jazz fan I also loved his music. i saw him in person in SF and LA.
His mother was a classical piano teacher so that’s where he got his chops.

Rochelle on December 6, 2012 at 9:49 am

And let’s not forget a few other mainstream jazz pianists who were contemporaneous with Brubeck. In the early part of his career, artists such as Bud Powell, Hoarce Silver and Thelonious Monk.

Little Al on December 6, 2012 at 11:02 am

    Also, not to be forgotten, Bill Evans who wrote a lovely ballad “Waltz For Debbie” (see youtube)

    Rochelle on December 7, 2012 at 6:35 am

While Brubeck was talented, I believe that he is overrated. Indeed, his fame is based largely on an album from 1959, in which the signature track was written by Paul Desmond.

The secret to his success was his longevity, compared to vastly more talented jazz artists, who often had lifestyle issues. And, it must be said, that his professorial appearance made him appear a whole lot less threatening–not to mention more “intellectual”–than his peers. Of course, his liberal politics also helped fuel the media coverage.

Bill Evans, McCoy Tyner, and Herbie Hancock–to name only three jazz pianists–are far more deserving of the accolades that were heaped on Brubeck.

Red Ryder on December 6, 2012 at 11:17 am

I seldom have anything positive to say about the University of Michigan, but they have just published a book about Tadd Dameron, the great composer/pianist of the immediate postwar period, that looks like it is pretty good.

Little Al on December 6, 2012 at 5:40 pm

About five years ago, I wrote an in-depth analysis and encomium of what I consider to be Brubeck’s golden years (1959-1963):

http://technopoeticsofmusic.blogspot.com/2007/06/dave-brubeck-early-golden-years.html

Hesperado on December 9, 2012 at 1:37 am

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