In 2013, the 56th Monterey Jazz Festival hosted an exhibit in the Coffee House Gallery about Dave Brubeck's performances at the Monterey Jazz Festival from 1958-2009, his involvement with the development of the festival with founder Jimmy Lyons, and the legacy of Brubeck's work as seen through photographs, artifacts, the media, and from those who knew him well. This is an online adaptation of that exhibit.
The Lasting Legacy of Dave Brubeck
By Jeff Kaliss
This article appeared in the 56th Monterey Jazz Festival program in 2013.
The family values which Dave Brubeck (1920-2012) engendered in his music reach far beyond the six children he and his wife Iola brought into the world, four of who became musicians and two of who are helping celebrate their father’s legacy this year at Monterey. When he appeared here at the Festival Dave treated us like family — with warmth, wisdom, and an ever-present paternal twinkle. And he’s left us a legacy not only in the form of timeless compositions and recordings, but also a living model of passion for jazz and for its power to educate and elevate our consciousness.
Photo: Dave Brubeck at the 28th Monterey Jazz Festival in 1985. ©Monterey Jazz Festival Archives / Veryl Oakland
Chris Brubeck, the third-born son and now a 60-year-old father himself, visited Monterey with his dad during Chris’s and the Festival’s early years. “As far as Dave was concerned, [the Festival] was just like a big giant family that he was reconnecting with,” Chris shares. “He’d say, ‘You’re on the road all the time, and then you go to a festival, and you finally see these people you haven’t seen in years.’ Your friendships all reconnect, including the people who run the stages, and the staff. And my dad was incredibly kind-hearted, and almost never said a bad word about anyone” — so he had lots of friends.
The bonhomie and the connections to music and Monterey County date back two generations for the Brubeck family, to Dave’s raising in the Sierra Foothills, in the 1920s and ‘30s, by Elizabeth Ivey Brubeck, a classically-trained pianist and music teacher, and Peter Brubeck, a rancher who also played harmonica and was a champion rider, stopping at Salinas on the rodeo circuit.
Three of their sons pursued music, with Dave, the youngest, graduating from what was then called the College of the Pacific, in Stockton, and marrying his campus sweetheart, Iola Whitlock, before being drafted and leading General George S. Patton’s army service band during World War II. Dave left the service and continued studying music on the GI Bill at Mills College in Oakland, where French composer Darius Milhaud taught him composition and gave him private lessons for free. It was a good place and time for discovery, and for starting a family of Baby Boomers; Dave and Iola’s first son (and future keyboardist and international educator) was dubbed “Darius” in 1947.
Starting in 1946, Dave and several of his Mills mates — dubbed the “Octet” — began melding jazz with classical music, long before Gunther Schuller coined the term “Third Stream” over a decade later. During this time, Dave enlarged both his family and his career, recording and gigging in clubs around the Bay Area.
His early fans included architecture student Dave Thorne, who designed for him a mid-century modern home in the Oakland Hills; San Francisco Chronicle music critic Ralph J. Gleason, who had the first syndicated jazz column in the United States; and Jimmy Lyons, a radio broadcaster fond of featuring Dave on his KNBC show, “Lyons’ Busy,” the first live radio show to concentrate on modern jazz on the West Coast. Dave even wrote the show’s self-titled theme song.
Lyons had also booked Dave’s Trio at the Burma Lounge in Oakland in 1949; he had already been a fan for several years when he had seen Brubeck perform at the Geary Cellar in San Francisco in several years earlier. Lyons’ wife, Laurel, the daughter of a rancher, had frequented the Brubeck’s ranch in the Sierra Foothill town on Ione as a child. The Festival’s pre-history with Lyons and the Brubecks had been struck both locally and on the airwaves through the albums Brubeck had recorded for the fledgling Fantasy Records, which Lyons happily played to an ever-expanding audience. (Jimmy Lyons seen in a KNBC promo photo, late 1940s. ©Monterey Jazz Festival Archives.)
Lyons told this author in a 1992 interview that he’d also featured saxophonist Paul Desmond on the air, and that he’d told Brubeck, “This would be a great guy to have with you.” Even though Brubeck and Desmond had a rocky relationship during that time, Dave agreed, and the two launched a Quartet in 1951, which soon began to draw national and international attention, validated by the appearance of Dave’s bespectacled visage on the cover of Time in 1954.
By the time the crossover impact of the Quartet’s Time Out was felt in 1959, the five (so far) Brubeck children had grown accustomed to the “fantastic environment” which was their Oakland Hills residence, Chris reports. “As a little kid, I would literally hear Uncle Joe, Uncle Paul, and Uncle Gene playing in our house all the time. Though you really didn’t know that these are four of the greatest players in the world.” Visitors included Miles Davis, who shot hoops with their father in the back yard.
As much as Dave was eager to instill a love of music in his offspring, he was increasingly motivated to spread that love around the world, supported by the first of his State Department tours in 1958. Simon Rowe, raised in Sydney and now beginning his third year as executive director of the Brubeck Institute at Dave and Iola’s alma mater (since renamed the University of the Pacific), testifies to the reactions of his native country to Brubeck’s visits there and his outspoken advocacy of social change. “Dave had worked to break down some of the barriers jazz had been in,” says Rowe, “but he also talked about how he’d canceled a tour through the American South, because Eugene Wright [the Quartet’s black bassist] wasn’t looked upon happily.” Rowe looks to Dave as the prototype of a world citizen. “Here he was, the son of a concert-level, European-trained pianist, playing jazz music with African and South American roots, having had composition lessons from a French Impressionist composer. He was unlimited.”
By the same token, Dave’s deep-seated allegiance to his homeland and to old friends let him respond promptly to Jimmy Lyons’ summons to a bare-bones performance before the city council of Monterey in June of 1958 — for $500 — which successfully launched the first Monterey Jazz Festival, co-founded by Lyons and Ralph Gleason, in October of that same year.
At that first of his many Festival gigs, Dave effectively showcased his family background, classical training, and global perspective with a set that included his older brother Howard’s Dialogue for Quartet and Orchestra (involving the Monterey Jazz Festival Symphony) and the Quartet’s Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, based on the German, Polish, and Turkish words for “thank you.”
Dave Brubeck Quartet and Howard Brubeck at MJF1, 1958. ©Monterey Jazz Festival Archives / Jerry Stoll
The Quartet, which would eventually appear at Monterey 15 times from 1958 through 2009, was always one of the emotional highlights of each festival — from the standing ovation before they even played a note, to the thunderous cheers of the audience at the opening polyrhythmic chords of “Take Five” — the shared catharsis of hearing the Quartet was immediate, and never lost its power on audiences young or old over the years.
Monterey became a favored home base and showcase for Dave, with his and lyricist Iola’s jazz musical, The Real Ambassadors, celebrating the 50th anniversary of its 1962 debut with an extensive exhibit at the Festival last year. Dave managed to recruit Louis Armstrong for the original project, which gave voice to issues of civil rights, the Cold War, the nature of God, and Dave’s glowing reverence for such jazz forebears as Satchmo. “The night it was done at Monterey was one of the greatest nights in jazz history,” wrote Ralph Gleason in the San Francisco Chronicle in 1967. “Had the performance at Monterey been recorded, I am convinced it would have been a jazz classic.”
The Real Ambassadors rehearsal at MJF5 in 1962. ©Monterey Jazz Festival Archives / Jerry Stoll
Dave and Iola one again created a larger-than-life stage performance at Monterey in 2006 with the commissioned Cannery Row Suite, a musical treatment of John Steinbeck’s novel Cannery Row, starring Kurt Elling, Roberta Gambarini and Chris Brubeck in lead vocal roles. “He was always up for exploring new projects and ideas and was always willing to listen to my thoughts,” says Tim Jackson, Artistic Director of the Festival, who brought Dave back to Monterey six times since 1992. “Dave was so generous with his time and his artistry — and of course his connection to the Monterey audience was like a magnet. It was an honor to know and work with him."
Even after relocating to southern Connecticut, where cellist Matthew was born in 1962, Dave returned many times to Monterey, manifesting his abilities to change with the times while maintaining his standards. Brubeck’s Monterey appearances in the 2000s equal the number of his performances in the 1960s — a testament that age and distance didn’t diminish Dave’s fondness for the Monterey Peninsula. The Festival also honored Dave’s contributions to the Festival and to jazz by awarding him the Inaugural Jazz Legends Gala Award in 2007, on the occasion of the Festival’s 50th anniversary. Darius, Chris, and Dan also began to share stages with their dad as members of the Quartet when they came of age, even as they pursued their own musical paths.
The Brubecks endorsed the founding of the Institute in Stockton in 2001 in order, as Simon Rowe puts it, “to have the material from Dave’s career placed in an accessible, well-structured environment, where the public and scholars could have access to those materials Iola had so carefully preserved.” A plaque was placed at the University’s Faye Spanos Concert Hall to mark where Iola and Dave had first set eyes on each other.
The Institute also furthers education in jazz, another of Dave’s vaunted values, presenting programs each year for thousands of Central Valley children and hosting a Summer Jazz Colony and an annual Brubeck Festival, which this year brought in Wynton Marsalis, Tom Harrell, Gunther Schuller, as well as the Brubeck Brothers Quartet and the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet.
At the 2013 Monterey Jazz Festival, the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet appeared at the Night Club on Saturday afternoon, and the Brothers — Chris on bass and trombone and Dan on drums, along with Chuck Lamb and Mike DeMicco on piano and guitar — played the same venue late on Saturday evening.
Also, on Saturday afternoon there was a panel in Dizzy’s Den, with host jazz writer Ashley Kahn, surviving Quartet member Gene Wright, Dave’s manager and conductor Russell Gloyd, and Dan and Chris. They all talked about Dave’s celebrated legacy, further represented by a photo exhibit all weekend at the Coffee House Gallery.
But, “It wouldn’t have mattered if he were a musician, or a plumber,” muses Chris. “It’s just really nice to know that people thought so highly of your father and how he treated people, the love they had for him, and what they want to do to honor him.” “To the extent that we reflect on the 20th century, someone like Dave, whose career took up a major part of that century, was very modern, as was his concept of inclusivity,” adds Simon Rowe. “He’s provided us a thread and a commentary that helps us understand ourselves.”