"At the time we were married, Dave was in the army and he said to me 'I don't know what the future is going to be like at all, but I promise you one thing, you will never be bored.' And he's kept his promise."
-- Iola Brubeck
The first time Iola Whitlock laid eyes on Dave Brubeck they were both students at the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California. "I heard him play at a school assembly and I was very impressed with how he played, although I really didn't know anything about jazz," she recalls. "I was just impressed with his intensity and energy, and it was different sounding from anything I'd heard before."
Jazz was hardly a part of Iola's upbringing. Her father worked for the Forest Service and neither parent had an interest in the arts. Iola was an active, achieving student in her northern California hometown of Redding. She was the valedictorian of her high school class and winner of several statewide awards for speech, debate and essay writing.
In college, Iola studied drama and radio production. She co-directed a weekly campus radio program called "The Friday Frolics" on which Dave and a small band contributed the music. At the time, Dave frequently pounded his foot to the beat. Iola asked him to remove his shoes, because the pounding upset the audio balance. The only thing Dave could think to say in response was "I've been thrown out of better places than this."
Despite the rocky beginning, Dave asked Iola out to a dance. They danced just once, sat and talked in Dave's car for three hours and decided to become engaged that night. "That really was a crazy thing," Iola recalls, laughing. "When I think about it, I'm a little embarrassed." They have been married since 1942, have six children (four are professional musicians) and six grandchildren.
After her marriage to Dave, Iola completed her degree in radio drama and continued her education while Dave was in the U.S. Army. During World War II, while her Dave was overseas, Iola won a radio drama contest in San Francisco, and went to the NBC training school in Hollywood. She later free-lanced as a radio actress, appearing on several network shows. Upon Dave's return after the war, they both enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, California--- Dave studying composition with Darius Milhaud, and Iola studying philosophy and creative writing.
With the birth of their first child in 1947, Iola devoted her time to raising her family and assisting Dave in his career. In the late 1940's, they taught a jazz appreciation course together at the University of California Extension at Berkeley and San Francisco. Iola did the lecturing while Dave, who was painfully shy, was relegated to illustrating her points by playing the piano. Their teaching earned them the grand sum of $15 a week.
While the Dave Brubeck Quartet was getting off the ground in the early 1950's, Dave and Iola were painfully poor. She often took the children on the road so they could keep together as a family. "We learned to improvise in living," Iola remembers, "Whatever place we could find to stay we stayed. We couldn't afford the best so we learned how to use camping equipment inside a city hotel. We had sleeping bags and air mattresses. Chris was a baby and you'd pull out a drawer and put some padding in and blankets so that would be where he would sleep. Every hotel room Michael would go into, he'd look around and say, 'Is this our new home?' And we'd say 'Yes, for a week.'
One of Iola's biggest contributions to Dave's career was her idea to bring music to college campuses. Students had little money to go to jazz clubs and Iola reasoned it would be easier to bring music to them. But there was another reason. Despite, the quartet's growing popularity, they were still having problems making ends meet financially. "I had this idea," said Iola, "Let's write to every place we can reach by car. We had a few nibbles and it grew from there."
It was a smash success for Brubeck and for jazz. It exposed the music to a wider, mainstream audience, ensuring a fan base for years to come. Jazz at Oberlin, and Jazz Goes to College became big sellers at record stores.
Iola has also made her mark as a lyricist for Dave's music. Some of her words came out of their experiences during decades of travel. For instance, when the quartet embarked on a people-to-people cultural exchange tour in 1958, the State Department briefed them on how to behave overseas. Four years later, Dave and Iola co-wrote a musical called The Real Ambassadors, which starred jazz legends Louis Armstrong and Carmen McRae. The musical was both a reaction to racial segregation in the United States, and the quartet's tour abroad.
A sample of Iola's lyrics: "Remember who you are, who you represent/ always be a credit to your government/ No matter what you say or what you do/ the eyes of the world are watching you" - lines similar to their actual briefing.
The Real Ambassadors premiered at Monterey Jazz Festival in 1962 to critical acclaim. Unfortunately, the show never reached Broadway. Dave and Louis Armstrong shared the same agent who wanted them both working on the road.
Iola has written lyrics for several of Dave's compositions that have been recorded by Dianne Schuur, Al Jarreau, Frederica Von Stade and others. In more recent years, Iola has collaborated with Dave as librettist for several oratorios and cantatas including, The Light in the Wilderness, The Gates of Justice, Truth is Fallen, and La Fiesta de la Posada.
Iola edited the text by poet Herbert Brokering for the cantata, Beloved Son, and contributed text for the Roman Catholic mass To Hope! She wrote the libretto for Pange Lingua Variations, based on the Latin text of Thomas Aquinas. She also contributed the lyrics for Four New England Pieces and Quiet As the Moon by Dave Brubeck.
Iola has served on the board of the Norwalk Youth Symphony in Connecticut, and Kinhaven School of Music in Vermont. Since 1950 she acted as Dave's secretary and personal manager. She is currently working with Dave on his autobiography.