Back in the ’70s, I was lucky enough to interview the great Dave Brubeck, although I didn’t know that he was great or that I was lucky at the time.
For reasons that defy explanation, I was a music reviewer without portfolio then, writing for every B-music publication in town: Musician’s Guide, PopTop, Rock Around the World, Nightfall, Night Life, whatever.
(See The Redemption Unit for further details.)
Anyway, Brubeck had a gig in Boston and I had a gig to interview him, which I did in the lobby of the Colonnade Hotel for reasons that defy explanation.
I had somehow gotten it into my head that Brubeck was too popular to be really good (and there was some element of resentment that he was so famous for Take Five when saxophonist Paul Desmond had actually composed it).
Regardless, I remember that I was far less respectful than I should have been.
For which I hereby apologize and offer this makeup (from his legendary 1963 Carnegie Hall performance):
Brubeck was a jazz original, as this New York Times obituary attests:
In a long and successful career, Mr. Brubeck brought a distinctive mixture of experimentation and accessibility that won over listeners who had been trained to the sonic dimensions of the three-minute pop single.
Mr. Brubeck experimented with time signatures and polytonality and explored musical theater and the oratorio, baroque compositional devices and foreign modes. He did not always please the critics, who often described his music as schematic, bombastic and — a word he particularly disliked — stolid. But his very stubbornness and strangeness — the blockiness of his playing, the oppositional push-and-pull between his piano and Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone — make the Brubeck quartet’s best work still sound original.
It sounds even better now he’s gone.