Dave Brubeck at Monterey: Part 1

1940s-1958

Dave’s friendship with Monterey Founder Jimmy Lyons went back to the mid-1940s, when Lyons was a radio disc jockey in San Francisco, and Dave was beginning his post-army career as a musician in the Bay Area. After quickly growing a loyal local and regional audience, Dave’s records for the Fantasy label made him an international star, and Lyons was all too happy to play them on the airwaves.


Dave Brubeck and Jimmy Lyons with Arena Stage prototype drawings, 1958. ©Monterey Jazz Festival Archives.

“I can’t quite believe that there can ever be enough Brubeck.”
– Jimmy Lyons, Theme Magazine, October 1953

Herb Wong on Brubeck: “I heard [Brubeck] on the radio in the San Francisco Bay Area, on a show. The announcer, Jimmy Lyons, had put some of the first Dave Brubeck records on. And I had to stop what I was doing. I mean I flipped out of my wig. I said, ‘Wait a minute, this is a revelation! Who is this guy? What is he doing and who are the guys playing with him?’ I actually gave Jimmy a call. I said, ‘Jimmy, who are these guys?’ [He said] ‘Well his name is Dave Brubeck.’ And I said, ‘Does he have any more records?’ He said, ‘I think there are a few more coming. So you dig it, huh?’ I said, ‘Oh, man, Jimmy keep playing him.’ Well, you know, I thought I was in jazz heaven. I didn’t need anything else at that point because I thought I found it."

"At one point, he mentioned that he was gonna be in Oakland at the Burma Lounge by Lakeshore Avenue. And, I made it a point to go. I gotta go hear this guy because he was unlike any other pianist I have ever heard. It was such an unusual blend of components on the piano — that is, more specific, the approach that he had with his two hands, some of the block chordedness some other pianists had explored…but he had that combination of something that I had related to — some classicism along with the improvisatory aspect of jazz. And he was able to do all this. He was like a magician to be able to blend all this together.” —Dr. Herb Wong, Rediscovering Dave Brubeck with Hedrick Smith (2001)

1958: The First Festival
Sunday, October 5, 1958

Dave Brubeck Quartet: Paul Desmond, alto saxophone; Dave Brubeck, piano; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums; Monterey Jazz Festival Symphony

By the time Lyons finally got to create his own festival at the Monterey County Fairgrounds, he had made many friends in the radio world. He called on Dave in June of 1958 to perform at the Grounds, as an example of what the music would be like to appease the wary Monterey City Council members. The Brubeck Quartet, a major force in jazz, made the trip to Monterey for $500 – a fraction of their usual contract price. Since that first concert, and continuing through today, 57 festivals celebrating jazz have been heard at the Fairgrounds to worldwide acclaim.


The Brubeck Quartet in a promotional photo taken at the Monterey County Fairgrounds in 1958. (L-R: Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, Joe Benjamin. Eugene Wright would soon replace Benjamin for the Festival appearance. ©Monterey County Herald Archives.

Dave Brubeck Quartet with the Monterey Jazz Festival Symphony, Gregory Millar, conductor. ©1958 Monterey Jazz Festival Archives

“Dave Brubeck’s ‘Jazz Impressions’ struck me as being much more pertinent to the problem of evolving jazz from non-jazz (in this case, folk music) than his two larger works, ‘Summer Song’ and ‘G Flat Theme.’ It is significant, I feel, that the ‘Impressions’ were closer to the sort of development that the Brubeck Quartet has become famous for.”
– Jack Benson, Monterey Peninsula Herald, October 10, 1958


Dave Brubeck and Jimmy Lyons at MJF1, 1958. ©Monterey Jazz Festival / Jerry Stoll

GO TO PART 2: 1961-1966