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Rediscovering Dave Brubeck
Rediscovering Dave Brubeck
Rediscovering Dave Brubeck
Rediscovering Dave Brubeck
Rediscovering Dave Brubeck

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Talking With Dave Brubeck

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Talking with Dave Brubeck

Dave on Critics

Picture of Dave Brubeck speaking from behind a piano

SMITH: You had some critics giving you a hard time -- this whole thing about West Coast jazz. West Coast jazz is cool jazz, that you guys are cool jazz. When they start saying that, what's your reaction?

DAVE: Listen to the music. I tell 'em, "go listen to Look For the Silver Lining and This Can't Be Love and if you think that's cool, you're crazy." Outside of that, I wouldn't say much.

SMITH: Uh, huh. You did better with the public in a lot of ways than you did with some of the critics.

DAVE: Maybe, but we had a lot of critics on our side. I mean all you have to do is go back and read the old Downbeats, Metronomes and reviews and you'll see how many people were behind us.

SMITH: The guy who wasn't behind you, though, was the guy who reviewed you in 1963 at Carnegie Hall. I mean that was a great concert in Carnegie Hall. You guys were swinging. And then you get a funny review in Carnegie Hall where the guy said, "They can't keep time together," or something like that….

DAVE: The first time that I realized people did not know what we were doing was we played [that concert] at Carnegie Hall and we got into a tune where we're all in different kinda tempos at the same time. And it was so great we were able to bring up these polyrhythms and all keep our individual beats going the whole time. The reviewer the next day said, "The Brubeck Quartet can't even keep time together. From his point of view, he was right; we couldn't keep time together. We weren't trying to." And it's because he didn't understand polyrhythms, that we were trying to play in different rhythms against each other which is very African and should be the basis of jazz. They still wanted a European march which I wasn't giving them that night. I mean the guy missed the whole point of the concert…. He just didn't have that background or awareness of African music which is so polyrhythmic.

SMITH: Is New York particularly a tough place? Is New York, I mean one thinks of New York as a big city and therefore it ought to be open.

DAVE: Look at it this way - the people I respected, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman uh, Woody Herman, Willie 'the Lion' Smith, Art Tatem, Bud Powell - they all liked what I was doing. Charlie Mingus, Miles Davis, almost all of the guys that really had made it and were experimental people, experimenting, liked what I was doing. So what do I care if some critic doesn't like it? I'd care if Duke Ellington didn't like it."

SMITH: So you have a feeling that a lot of your frustration with critics is not just their criticism but they didn't get what you were trying to do.

DAVE: Right. And yet Duke Ellington got it, Stan Kenton got it, and Charlie Mingus and Charlie Parker and Dizzy and Miles and Willie the Lyon Smith, and on and on of the giants were liking what I was doing. And…and absolutely no criticism from the top guys, and when a critic thinks he

SMITH: You once said to a critic "Anybody can swing." What did you mean?

DAVE: It was even worse than that. I said, "Any jackass can swing." But invent and make something new and still swing, that's what I'm trying to do. One time Miles Davis had written that our band didn't swing. Well we were working together and uh, Ella Fitzgerald came into [The Blackhawk Club in San Francisco] And asked if I would play for her; she felt like singing. She finished her job and she came over and it was after hours where we were. So it was just Ella and I and Miles was sitting at the bar. And when we finished, I went - sat next to Miles and he said, "You swing. Your band don't swing." Now immediately people had picked up when Miles said I couldn't swing. This is news; this is what a lot of guys wanted to hear. What they don't realize and at intermissions Miles would say his band didn't swing. You see what I mean? He was very critical of his own group. He was critical of my group; he was critical of almost everybody….There's an interesting thing that Mingus told somebody. He said that this musician or critic said I didn't swing and he said, "Look at the people out there tapping their feet the whole time Dave's up there on the stand playing. Why do you think they're tapping their feet?" And that's the answer right there is if you're reaching the people and they're feeling that beat, you swing. And I've reached millions of people and they've been swinging and I'm still doing it."

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Picture of Dave Brubeck speaking from behind a piano



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