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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 Paul Desmond and the Quartet

Picture of Dave Brubeck speaking from behind a piano

SMITH: There's something about you and Paul Desmond that drew you to each other, wasn't there? What's the chemistry between you and Paul?

DAVE: Yeah in spite of uh, us being very different uh, musically we were very much the same. Paul called it ESP. I didn't but Paul did. We just would think together.

SMITH: And what was it? Was it training, was it instinct? What was it?

DAVE: Well Paul always felt he played better when he played with me. And uh, he's played with a lot of other people but he always felt that when he played with me he felt the best. [And] I knew I played better with him. It was mutual. And .I never said I disliked Paul's playing; I just disliked Paul as a young man that had some crazy habits. But never have I ever said anything but compliments about how wonderful he played and how we did belong together.

SMITH: Yeah. Now what was it? I mean was there….was there a conversation going on in the music? Was there a dialogue? Can you take a tune and sort of say, "I do this and Paul would do that."

DAVE: You don't ever talk about that. It's Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, you know. They got a musical mind together and uh, you can't explain it. It's either there or it isn't. And there have been all kinds of wonderful people that work together very well.

SMITH: But he used to kid you. I mean he'd go - he'd also play things that were, I don't know if they were off-key but I mean he'd play…..Well Paul, you know, Paul had this thing about quotes, and he had this thing about telling stories uh, in music. And wasn't there one night when you guys were riding in Pennsylvania and…and the cops pulled him over the side of the road for speeding - I can't remember the story. What….what happened? Do you remember what I'm talking about?

DAVE: The cops pulled us over and Paul was driving and I guess speeding a little. And, [the cop] told us to follow him and he took us down across the railroad tracks to a farm house where there was a judge. And we had to pay a certain amount of cash to this judge. Well there wasn't time to rehearse or even talk about this and the next night at the concert, in the middle of a tune, Paul laid out the whole sequence in quotes. Titles of songs that would tell the story. The first place the cop was supposed to be wearing a broad rim hat like they do in Pennsylvania, kinda, you know like the Canadian Mounted Police. The first quote he played was "Where did you get that hat?" The next thing was "Down by the railroad station, early in the morning." All wove into another tune -- quote after quote after quote that made absolute sense as a jazz chorus. And of course Paul just strung out these quotes -- he could do that.

SMITH: You told me he would even do that on stage playing with you and sometimes he'd play, I don't know, Don't Fence Me In, I mean he'd…I mean he'd play things that were sorta, you know, giving you the elbow.

DAVE: Oh yeah, he had some good quotes. We'd be playing in the middle of a song and I might hit a chord that was too far out and the next thing he would play would, you'd hear "You're driving me crazy." What did I do? (laughter)

SMITH: So he'd let you know. (laughter)

DAVE: Yeah.

SMITH: Yeah. Paul could be funny. Tell me the story about the ostrich.

DAVE: Some people called him the stroke -- 'Cause he would stand on one leg and leaned on the piano. But that….that was when he was playing great. What used to scare me is I'd look at him and it would just be whites in his eyes, wouldn't be any eyeballs. He'd roll them up when he's really concentrating the eyes would disappear some ways. It was frightening sometimes. [You'd] look at Paul and just see whites. Then he'd also say to me, "When you lift your right eyebrow, I know I'm sharp." In other words he wasn't right in tune. I didn't know that I did that.

He used to know how to put me on. Like [we'd have] an important job a group would have done some kind of sound check and no Paul. Now it's time to walk out on stage and fact, you're thinking, "I guess we'll go on as a trio." Then I'd look over just about time to start and there - I can just see Paul wetting his reed in his mouth standing on the other side of the stage. He timed it just to the last second.

SMITH: What were Paul's favorite tunes to play?

DAVE: He loved to play For All We Know We Will Never Meet Again -- [that] was one of his favorite tunes. And he loved ballads; almost any good ballad - Stardust, he loved The Blue Dove. And Conosan he loved, the Japanese tune I wrote.

SMITH: Yeah. Take the guys in your Quartet. If you were to kinda look at what Morello was doing, what Wright was doing, what Desmond was doing and what you were doing, you know, just kind of in a capsule, what was each person doing in the Quartet? What was their contribution? Who were they in the mix?

DAVE: Yeah, well Eugene Wright, the bass player, was the rock that kept us no matter how far we were pushing in a harmonic or rhythmic direction, he kept us rooted. And Morello was absolutely phenomenal. He could play one beat in this foot, one in this, one in this hand and one in this hand - the polyrhythmic drummer which I always wanted and phenomenal. So you got this rock bottom guy on the bass and then this drummer just knocking out drummers all over the world. Joe used to go to drum stores during the afternoons. Say we're playing a concert in London, there'd be three hundred drummers go to that drum store just to hear what Joe could do. So with everything that's going on, his bass drum and Gene's beat on the bass were always together. That's what tied those two guys together. And they're always listening to each other.

SMITH: Interesting because that, you say that's the first duet you did with Paul. I mean there's something real pure about that. You were talking about your musical and I…I almost imagine the two of you, when I think about it, as having a dialogue. It's like a conversation. He plays some choruses and then you kinda answer it, then he plays some more. I mean it's like going back and forth.

DAVE: Yeah, but that's what jazz is all about, is a dialogue or answering one another. And then when you got the whole Quartet doing something like on the Carnegie Hall album there's a tune called It's a Raggy Waltz that really got going playing really intricate things. See you got one two, one two; it's a waltz, a raggy waltz. Gene's holding it together round, round, never budging. Yeah.

SMITH: George Wein talks about you guys being booked at the Storyville at something like nine hundred bucks a week, including all your travel costs and all your hotel costs. I mean, you guys were not making much money.

DAVE: Yeah and it wasn't that much, it was six hundred.

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SMITH: And out of that you paid what?

DAVE: Everything. Phone bills, union dues, and all the uh, Social Security taxes. I was always the low man financially for years with my Trio and with the Quartet.

SMITH: What were you making at that time, as a group? When you're on the cover of Time magazine, what do you think you were making?

DAVE: Oh,.it's hard to know. I think that we had had some concert dates where we made a thousand dollars a night, but they weren't very many. Most of the time we were working for what we call 'union scale' which isn't much.

SMITH: All right, let's talk about Take Five. How does Take Five get invented?

DAVE: Well I was doing an album called Time Out where I was gonna do different kinds of time signatures. And Joe Morello was playing and then improvising off of that beat backstage and Paul would pick up his horn and start playing against it. And I said, "There's a tune I want to get into this album because it's in five four time. So Paul, write down some of these things that you're playing against Joe's beat." So he came to rehearsal and the first thing he said was, "I can't write a tune in five four time." And I said, "Well did you put anything down?" And he said, "Yeah, I put a couple of themes down." I said, "Let me see 'em." So he played one of 'em, then he played the other. And I said, "Look if you repeat this one and then use that second theme as a bridge and then go back, you have the typical jazz form or the thirty-two bar form, that Broadway shows use so much which is A section, repeat A section, B section - which you call the bridge - and go back to A." So that's what we did.

SMITH: What does it take to hold a group like that together and to get 'em to work together?

DAVE: Well you - there's different ways of holding a group together. Some people used to call, Duke Ellington 'the iron fist in the velvet glove.' There were other bandleaders that physically would beat you up if you didn't do right. And there's other guys that would give you the reins like Benny Goodman. And different ways of making guys play or not play and making guys comfortable or not comfortable.

You have to know each guy and adjust tto the personality of each one of the guys. For instance, Joe Morello wanted to be featured and I said, "I'll feature you." Well that's the way I could get him into the group. Now when he got into the group Paul heard him featured and saw Joe get his standing ovation the first time he took a drum solo and then Paul said, "I'm leaving the group. Either he goes or I go." And I said, "He's not going, Paul." Now here's when you're a leader and you know you have a group that's really gonna go to the top if you can hold them together. And so you challenge them and you say, "I'm not letting Joe go because I know that Joe can do on drums what I want to hear." He's the greatest polyrhythmic drummer I've ever worked with." And that's the direction I want to go. I don't want to lose this guy. I don't want to lose Paul. I'll gamble that Paul really doesn't mean this. So it the next night Paul showed up at the job. I didn't know if [he was] gonna show up. I expected I might have to play a duet with drums and piano. But I'm taking that gamble and that's because as a leader you've gotta gamble sometimes to keep guys together.

SMITH: But weren't there other times when you more than made it up to him by letting him take the first solos? And I mean what did you do for Paul? You did a lot for Paul.

DAVE: Oh, I made it so he would enjoy playing. Sure. But that's what you've got to do when you got four guys and each guy really wants to show what he can do. Every night there's a drive in these guys and you've got to set a stage in the band so that each guy can do what he feels inside. And.there's a lot of leaders that will not feature their own men. I'm not one of them. I feature each guy every night. And they're happy. There are some leaders that have the type of ego that they can't stand to have a sideman get more applause than they would. You gotta figure out what's gonna motivate these guys to play their best, then they want to stay in the group. And they'll leave as soon as they're not playing their best or getting a chance to.

SMITH: Wwhy did the famous Brubeck Quartet break up in 1967?

DAVE: All the guys were given a year's notice and I told them it was the end of the year. I wanted to be with my family and I wanted to get off the road and I wanted to compose. And I think I stayed off about a month and went back with a new Quartet but we didn't work as hard. With Gerry Mulligan, Alan Dawson and Jack Six.

SMITH: How'd it hit you when Paul died?

DAVE: With a bat. Our son, Daniel, was first on the scene and called me. We knew that he was terribly ill but he didn't want to spend his last days in a hospital so he tricked his girlfriend into going to England that holiday weekend so that she wouldn't be around. He planned to die that weekend, when we look back on it.

SMITH: When you look back, I mean is that an emotional low point? Is that a hard point for you personally?

DAVE: Yeah, it is because Paul shouldn't have died, you know. So many of my friends shouldn't have died and they just believed they were indestructible and they lived too hard and those things finally catch up with you.

SMITH: You know, let me just ask you pointedly, did you love Paul? Was Paul your best friend?

DAVE: Yeah. Even when I was disappointed with what he was doing, I still loved him, yeah. And uh, Iola's seen us go through things where we were trying to steer Paul away from the direction he was going. Then as a bandleader, you're becoming like a parent which doesn't work, because these guys are full grown, brilliant people and it's very hard to tell a guy, "Look, you're really doing the wrong thing." It's gonna really end up badly. And then you withdraw because you know you're not gonna be able to do any good and you back off. But that doesn't mean you stop loving somebody.

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Picture of Dave Brubeck speaking from behind a piano



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