On Dec. 6, the same day the jazz composer and pianist turns 89, he’ll be among the leading artists feted at the 32nd Kennedy Center Honors Gala.
Dignitaries from President Barack Obama on down will celebrate Brubeck’s career, along with those of singer Bruce Springsteen, actor Robert De Niro, comic genius Mel Brooks and opera singer Grace Bumbry, the Kennedy Center announced Wednesday.
Brubeck says it’s a day that would have delighted his late mother, Elizabeth Ivey Brubeck, a classical pianist who was initially disappointed by her son’s interest in jazz. He recalled that when he graduated high school in 1938, his mother wrote in her diary: “I think there is some hope for David after all.”
”Both my older brothers were such terrific musicians — classical musicians. And she wanted three sons that would follow in her footsteps ..., and I let her down,” Brubeck said in a phone interview from Seattle, where he was touring this week. “She finally came around to what I was doing. She lived long enough to see good results, and she enjoyed going to the concerts.”
Obama and the first lady will host the 2009 honorees at the White House before attending the gala with them at the Kennedy Center. Brubeck said he is looking forward to meeting the president, who wrote of going to a Brubeck concert as a child in his memoir “Dreams From My Father.”
As usual, the gala will be recorded for broadcast as a two-hour prime-time special on CBS. This year’s will air on Dec. 29 at 9 p.m.
The Kennedy Center Honors recognize performing artists for their contributions to American culture.
Brubeck is credited with helping take jazz into the mainstream, and his band popularized music that departed from the traditional 4/4 rhythm. “Time Out” — the classic album by the Dave Brubeck Quartet featuring the hit “Take Five” in 5/4 time_ turned 50 this year. Brubeck has set to music the words of the Old Testament and of Martin Luther King Jr. and, most recently, the photographs of Ansel Adams.
One of the Kennedy Center Honors for 2009 went last night to Dave Brubeck on his 89th birthday.For the jazz community, of course, the big news is the inclusion of Brubeck. By dint of talent, conviction and fortitude he has persevered through a 63-year career of struggle, fame, misfortune, rewards, unjustified calumny and ultimate acceptance by nearly everyone, including many who once found it convenient to use him as a symbol of whatever they found unworthy, inartistic or unfair in the jazz business. When he had survived a long time, they started listening.
It’s only once in a blue moon that the Kennedy Center Honors, the Washington institution’s annual lifetime achievement awards for American performing arts, salutes a jazz musician. The last instance was in 1996, when Benny Carter was honored—and that, allegedly, took President Clinton’s intervention, since the revered-in-jazz Carter was unknown to most of America.
This year, however, the Kennedy Center found that rare overlap of genuine innovation and popular acclaim in Dave Brubeck. The pianist and composer was feted in Washington on Dec. 6, his 89th birthday, at a ceremony attended by a cross-section of Hollywood royalty and D.C. power players including President and Mrs. Obama, Vice President Biden and House Speaker Pelosi.
The tribute to Brubeck was the evening’s second with a presentation anchored by fellow pianist Herbie Hancock.
“Dave Brubeck is the reason I don’t have a day job,” Hancock began, detailing how he’d intended to become an electrical engineer before hearing Brubeck’s music. He also highlighted the importance of Time Out, Brubeck’s most famous and revolutionary album. “Time Out was a whole different spin,” Hancock said. “That a jazz record could top the charts was amazing, but when you think about those difficult time signatures? Americans can’t dance to 5/4!”
“Dave was the wizard of West Coast jazz,” he added. “Cool as cool can be.”
After a short film celebrating Brubeck’s life and work, from his father’s California ranch to his quartet with Paul Desmond to his elder statesmanship, mistress of ceremonies Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg took the stage to announce an all-star musical tribute: a quintet featuring trumpeter Jon Faddis, altoist Miguel Zenón, pianist Bill Charlap, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Bill Stewart. They played a few of Brubeck’s best-known tunes, beginning with “Unsquare Dance” and “Kathy’s Waltz.” Faddis stood out from the group on these, playing shining virtuosic lines at breakneck speed against Zenón peppery bebop phrases. On the CBS monitors, Michelle Obama could be seen gently swinging in her seat.
When it came to Brubeck’s biggest hit, “Take Five,” the ensemble grew considerably. A curtain rose to reveal the U.S. Army Field Band’s Jazz Ambassadors, a group of 13 horn and reed players, who joined the quintet in an impressive arrangement of the tune. Then, on a sliding stage, came a piano with Hancock in the driver’s seat, soloing in a typically complicated and breathtaking harmony. (McBride later confessed that he was lost within one bar.)
The ranks swelled yet again for “Blue Rondo à la Turk.” This time the new arrivals were Brubeck’s four sons—Darius (piano), Chris (trombone), Matthew (cello), and Dan (drums). With 22 musicians onstage, it sounded like a full (and sublime) symphony orchestra was soaring through the 9/8 groove, particularly with McBride and Matthew Brubeck (who played a splendid arco solo) now forming a string section. Just before the song closed, the whole group segued seamlessly into a chipper rendition of “Happy Birthday” that led right back to the “Blue Rondo” coda.
“He’s 89 years old today,” Hancock had said of Brubeck in his intro, “But when he sits down to play, he turns on that smile and loses 40 to 50 years just like that.” Though Brubeck wasn’t playing, the smile he flashed as his tribute ended was at full blast. Its rejuvenating powers weren’t an exaggeration.
Kennedy Center Honors unite D.C. for a night.
This year’s recipients of the Kennedy Center Honors, an annual black-tie gala that recognizes performers who transformed the arts in America, were Bruce Springsteen, Robert De Niro, Mel Brooks, opera singer Grace Bumbry and jazz legend Dave Brubeck.
Sunday’s elaborately staged show at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, traditionally attended by the president and first lady, was the 32nd of its kind and the first for Barack Obama.
Jazz musicians assembled on stage for a medley of Brubeck’s pioneering work. Obama recalled in the East Room reception that one of the few times he spent with the father who abandoned him growing up included a Brubeck jazz concert in Hawaii in 1971.
”The world he opened up to a 10-year-old boy was spectacular,” Obama said.
Jazz legend Herbie Hancock, who introduced a film tribute to Brubeck, grew up with his influence and recalled, “If you were playing Dave’s music on your stereo you were cool.”
The winners are selected by the center’s trustees and by past honorees for their contribution to American culture in dance, music, theater, opera, motion pictures or television.
WASHINGTON — Political and entertainment luminaries gathered here over the weekend for the 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors.
In remarks at the White House, Mr. Obama thanked the honorees for “the joy and the beauty” they brought to people’s lives.
“In times of war and sacrifice, the arts — and these artists — remind us to sing and to laugh and to live. In times of plenty, they challenge our conscience and implore us to remember the least among us,” Mr. Obama said. “In moments of division or doubt, they compel us to see the common values that we share; the ideals to which we aspire, even if we sometimes fall short.
Mr. Brubeck is perhaps best known for “Time Out,” the 1959 album he made with the Dave Brubeck Quartet that included the single “Take Five.” According to event organizers, Mr. Brubeck, who turned 89 on Sunday, is believed to be the first honoree to celebrate a birthday on the day of the gala performance.
On Saturday night, former President Bill Clinton spoke of humming a portion of Mr. Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk” to prove to the jazz pianist he was a fan.
Shortly thereafter, Mr. Clinton recounted, he received a signed picture from Mr. Brubeck and the chart to the song. “It hangs in the music room of my home today,” Mr. Clinton said. “It hung in the White House every single day I was there.”
Nearly 40 years ago, a Kenyan father was visiting his son in Hawaii and took him to his first jazz concert. The boy was Barack Obama and the performer was jazz great Dave Brubeck.
“I’ve been a jazz fan ever since,” the president said Sunday, crediting the pianist and composer with bringing jazz into the mainstream and transforming it with new rhythms. “The world that he opened up for a 10-year-old boy was spectacular.”
Obama greeted Brubeck at the White House on the musician’s 89th birthday.
A surprise list of stars performed as part of the nation’s highest honors for those who have defined American culture through the arts. It’s part of a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy.
“These performers are indeed the best,” Obama said. “They are also living reminders of a single truth - and I’m going to steal a line from Michelle here - the arts are not somehow apart from our national life, the arts are the heart of our national life.”
President Obama and the First Lady often find themselves surrounded by cheering fans, but for a few hours on Sunday night, they were the ones doing the applauding.
“On days like this, remember: I’m the President, but he’s the Boss,” Obama said in remarks at an East Room ceremony at the White House before the 32nd annual Kennedy Center Honors, where five distinguished artists — comedian Mel Brooks, actor Robert DeNiro, jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, opera singer Grace Bumbry and all-American rocker Bruce Springsteen — received lifetime achievement awards.
The program, hosted by Caroline Kennedy, presented tributes with video montages, heartfelt remarks and performances by their close friends, who came together onstage to celebrate the honoree’s life work.
The tribute to brubeck touched obama, whose grandfather took him to a brubeck concert in honolulu in 1971. “the world [dave] opened up to a 10-year-old boy was spectacular,” he reflected.
In his east room remarks, the president invoked the role the arts can play in the morale of a nation. “in times of war and sacrifice, the arts remind us to sing and to laugh and to live.... In days of hardship, they renew our hope that brighter days are still ahead,” obama said. “we can overcome whatever comes our way.”
The Kennedy Center Honors, our nation’s highest cultural awards, place its annual recipients in an especially concentrated spotlight. Yet even if modesty forbids them from acknowledging it, these figures are used to the limelight. Here the colleagues of this year’s crop—movie actor Robert De Niro, writer-director Mel Books, rocker Bruce Springsteen, jazz legend Dave Brubeck and opera singer Grace Bumbry—make an attempt to describe the impossible: what makes them great.
Brubeck is being celebrated as a pianist, of course, but also as a composer, which is what bassist Christian McBride—a musical partner and friend of more than 10 years—considers his greatest achievement. “I’ve always thought the essence of him was in his compositions,” he says. “There’s a certain feel and sound to them, even the larger-scale works like the choral and ensemble pieces. But there’s also the classic quartet, with Paul Desmond, and that has a signature sound, too.” Yet it all comes back to the keyboard: “He has such a very lyrical sound. It’s this nice hybrid of the European classical tradition, the stride-piano tradition and the modernism of Art Tatum.”