Dave Brubeck: His Own Sweet Way
Nearly fifty years after it's release Time Out remains Brubeck's biggest seller at Columbia, especially memorable for the mega-hit, "Take Five. Legendary drummer Joe Morello, who joined the Brubeck quartet in 1956 and remained until it was dissolved in 1967, recalls asking Brubeck to write "a nice little drum thing for me. When I did a drum solo I'd start off in four and then I'd go into 3/4 and 5/4, 6/8. People never saw that before. Dave kind of enjoyed it because he liked to dabble in rhythms. He could speed up and slow down because he was interested in that concept.
"In fact he asked me one time, 'Do you think you could get a good jazz thing if I got into different tempos?' I said, 'Certainly you can,' and he said, 'Well you're one of the first guys who agreed with me.' So Desmond said, 'I'll write the tune.' He wrote 'Take Five'. The thing was supposed to sell hardly nothing. It was just a drum solo. The damn thing took off! Of his years with Brubeck, Morello says simply, "I really liked the guy. It was different and he took chances.
Although not primarily known for working with singers, Brubeck has had his share of the greatest. "I loved working with Carmen McRae. She liked my songs and recorded 'Weep No More,' the first ballad I ever wrote. That made me feel good. I was on an airplane on the way to a festival with Carmen. She said she wished there were words to 'A Raggy Waltz.' So I wrote it for her on the airplane. Of Jimmy Rushing he enthuses, "Oh, boy! On tour [in England] Jimmy said, 'Dave, I want to make a recording with you. I have listened to you for years.' That surprised me. He listened to me! ...So without any rehearsal we did that album [Brubeck & Rushing (Columbia, 1960)]. Everything was just one take after another. And you can hear him laughing on the end of one tune, he recalls, chuckling delightedly.
No conversation about Brubeck's many accomplishments can overlook his pioneering combining of jazz with symphony orchestras (memorably with Leonard Bernstein) and especially bringing jazz to college audiences and, more specifically, to integrated audiences. Of those years touring when segregation was the norm, Brubeck recalls, "I can't say enough about how great [bassist] Eugene Wright was. And how great Paul and Joe were when Eugene couldn't stay or eat with us. I remember one night when Eugene couldn't get a place in Salt Lake City. Paul and Gene figured they could stay in the Pullman porters' hotel, so Paul went with Eugene. And sometimes Joe would do something with Eugene. I took him with me to the Summit meeting of Gorbachev and Reagan in Moscow, because after all that he had gone through I thought [it] would be a way of letting the world know he was still with me.
Of his current quartet Brubeck says, "I've had groups where the guys were great but as a group they didn't bring them in. I don't know, for some reason you never know why it works. The group I've got now works as good as any group I've had. [They] just bring the audience into what we're doing. And that's all you can expect.
Bobby Millitello, who's been Brubeck's alto sax man for twenty-six years, came to work with him when Iola Brubeck remembered a great solo of his years earlier with Maynard Ferguson. Playing with Brubeck was a childhood dream of Millitello's, so "When he called I just said yes, I didn't say how much, I didn't ask what was happening, I just said yes. He flipped out because I knew all the standards and I'm an ear player like he is. So it's not a question of always looking at the pages. Close your eyes and listen and I can hear exactly where something is going. That's where Dave is. [He] has ears like a friggin' elephant! He starts doing chord things that you've never heard any other pianist do. Still to this day he'll flip you right out.
Brubeck's equally longtime drummer, Brit Randy Jones raves, "What is remarkable is that he has never stopped improvising. He himself questions his pianistic abilities but it's just breathtaking. Night after night he plays differently. ...He's an instinctive improviser.
Slowing down doesn't seem to be a part of Brubeck's vocabulary. The subject of a Clint Eastwood-produced documentary In His Own Sweet Way, due out next year, he continues touring and recording jazz and his classical music while serving as a very active chairman of The Brubeck Institute established by his alma mater, the University of the Pacific. Asked what his most significant quality is, Brubeck says simply, "Opening doors.
Opening doors. That's it, the resolute optimism that's carried him through the years, as he affirms in his own sweet way, "All kinds of good things are happening.