Jazz Legend Dave Brubeck had it all planned out. At forty he was content with his place in history, he was sick of the road and was ready to retire from touring. That's until his lawyer reluctantly informed him "You have no money" Brubeck now eighty one says with a laugh "things can change really fast in life, finding out your broke will do that" The rude awakening coupled with the need to put his kids through college restarted a career that reached heights he could never have imagined. "You have to be open to change I think that's what brings success" he was also open to advise "My lawyer said you've worked so hard to break even all these years but your big years are just around the corner" He was right.
A few years later in 1959 Brubeck released one of the most influential Jazz albums in history Time Out featuring the hits Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk both shared the special distinction of appealing to both pop and Jazz fans. Known for his odd time signature in song structure Brubeck was not always loved by critics but had an all star support system including Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus and Benny Goodman Brubeck say "The great musicians accepted it and that's what's important not whether the critics accepted it. When the guys you respect keep telling you keep going kid then you know you have something."
Brubeck also moved his family from California to Connecticut and he said the change in scenery specifically the little stream outside his window helped his creative juices "Living by this stream has always been good for me the native's belief that getting close to nature is like getting close to true creativity. It's a good thing that I grew up surrounded by cows!" Growing up on a cow farm in California Brubeck seemed destined to follow in his fathers footsteps but his mother had other plans. Brubeck says "She was a great musician, my parents were I guess a mis-matched pair but in the long run her influence won out. If it was up to my dad you'd be interviewing Dave Brubeck the cattle man right now."
With no plans to ever retire Brubeck is back on the road this summer. The Dave Brubeck Quartet will perform across North America throughout the summer. Here is the whole Interview.
John Beaudin - Hi Dave. It's very nice to talk with you and it's going to be great having you back on the road this summer.
Dave Brubeck - Thank you. I'm glad to be back.
John - How long has it been since you were in Vancouver?
Dave - Geez, I don't know.
John - It's been a while for sure. Vancouver's a pretty good Jazz town.
Dave - I know that. I love Vancouver. I love Canada.
John - I hear you never stop. You always have a project going.
Dave - Ha! I'm glad to hear that because I haven't stopped at all.
John - Does it keep you young?
Dave - I have so much going on now that sometimes I wonder how I'm going to keep up with it, with everything. I always manage to get through from one crisis to the next. These next three to four months are full of one thing after another. Next week we play at Carnegie Hall and of course that's always an excitement. We're also going to England to record with the London Symphony Orchestra. All these things keep me on my toes you know what I mean?
John - If you don't use it you'll lose it right?
Dave - Of course, we have so many things always going on and the whole process never has changed.
John - Tell me something, when you were forty for instance did you have a time in your head of when you were going to retire or did you know that you'd still be doing it now?
Dave - (laughing) I tell you. Things can change really fast in life finding out you're broke will do that (laughing) I tell you. Things change in your life. When I was forty I was going to retire. That doesn't mean quit playing I was just going to quit going out on the road and maybe play around San Francisco. My attorney said, "Dave do you want to put your kids through college?" and I said, "Yeah," well he said, "You have no money." (Laughing) I thought well my wife got through college through a scholarship and I didn't cost my parents much because I worked as a Jazz musician on weekends and sometimes six nights a week when I was going to school. He said, "This is a different time you gotta have some money to get your kids through school." So I said, "What can I do about it because I'm sick of the road and not being with my family." He said, "Move east for one year because you've worked so hard to break even all these years and your big years are just around the corner." So, my lawyer talked me into coming to the east coast and he was right my big years were coming. It would have been awful if I'd quit. You have to be open to change I think that's what brings success.
John - Jazz is a different animal to pop though. A lot of people may know and respect Jazz musicians but the money is nowhere near on par.
Dave - Yeah, people just don't know that side of it. For years I wasn't making very much money at all. Instead of coming out here for a year this will be my forty-second year that I've been here.
John - You're still in Connecticut Right?
Dave - Right.
John - Do you still check out that little stream beside your house.
Dave - Yeah, It's right outside the window here. I'm looking at it.
John - I remember years ago that some natives told you that the vibration from the stream is very grounding and good for you.
Dave - Yes they did. That's true. Living by this stream has always been good for me the native's belief that getting close to nature is like getting close to true creativity. It's a good thing that I grew up surrounded by cows!
John - Do you still live in that huge house?
Dave - Oh Yeah. I love it. I don't need the room but it's good to know it's there.
John - A lot of your kids are in music.
Dave - Four of them are professionals. My youngest son has been playing with Sheryl Crowe for a couple of years. He also played with Jewel, remember her?
John - Yes. Since you grew up in a cattle farm I guess you had your fair share of good hard work?
Dave - You can say that again. This music is a lot easier.
John - Back then it was your mother that really encouraged you.
Dave - Well she gave up on me a few times. She was a great musician, my parents were I guess a mismatched pair but in the long run her influence won out. If it was up to my dad you'd be interviewing Dave Brubeck the cattle man right now. My brothers were both musicians. I was going to be a veterinarian and cattle man. In college I switched to music after one year of pre-med.
John - Glad you made the switch.
Dave - Oh boy am I!
John - You are in an interesting position as being an innovator in a genre that's pretty damn hard to play. You broke the rules early with odd time signature. What was the reaction in the fifties when you started playing around with structure?
Dave - Well people like Duke Ellington, Charlie Mingus and Benny Goodman and so on. The great musicians accepted it and that's what's important not whether the critics accepted it. When the guys you respect keep telling you keep going kid then you know you have something. You're heading in the right direction.
John - Did you really get a lot of encouragement back then?
Dave - Oh yeah, from Goodman and all of them.
John - Did you get a chance to see the Ken Burns PBS Jazz special?
Dave - Yeah, it was fine.
John - It brought Jazz to folks who maybe otherwise would not have had that much exposure to it. The special really spent a lot of time on Louis Armstrong and kind of heralded him as the godfather of Jazz.
Dave - Sure, he deserves it.
John - Do you have fond memories of working with him?
Dave - I'll say. Over my piano is the manuscript that I sent to Louis of the song called 'Summer Song' and on it he wrote "very happy Mrs. Brubeck sachmo Louis Armstrong" because my wife wrote the lyrics.
John - You still have a lot of your memorabilia right?
Dave - Yeah, it's going to the institute in Stockton California. We sent one hundred and seventy six legal size boxes of papers and photographs and itineraries. It's all there at the University.
John - It's extremely valuable stuff especially from someone like you. Let's talk about 'Take Five.' I heard you had a pretty good idea that there was something with that song but the record company didn't really support it.
Dave - They didn't support it at all. Yes, I had a feeling that I had something there plus 'Blue Rondo' and 'Three to get Ready' there were so many things on that album that are still strong.
John - And now Smooth Jazz stations are playing it. This is a whole new crowd for you.
Dave - Yeah, that's great. I never would have guessed that would happen.
John - What do you think of Smooth Jazz?
Dave - I didn't know there was such a thing.
John - (laughing)A lot of Smooth Jazz acts mention you as an influence.
Dave - I do meet a lot of guys and I'm surprised because they're so great and talented and will tell me that some of the first Jazz they have ever heard was my recordings. It's wonderful when you hear somebody so great and so young and even middle aged guys now will tell me that. That makes me very happy.
John - Well you made a difference.
Dave - When I hear Louis Armstrong, Art Tatum or Count Basie or Duke Ellington I feel the same way.
John - Do you remember the first album you ever bought?
Dave - I remember exactly what it was. It cost forty-eight cents. It was a 78. I even remember the store it was called Sherman & Clay and I bought Fats Waller's 'There's moon Tonight' and on the other side was "Lets be Fair and Square in Love.' I can remember it as if it were yesterday. Our house was full of music.
John - Was that mostly from your mother?
Dave - Mostly from my mother and my older brothers.
John - Your mother taught right?
Dave - Yeah she did. I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for my mom. My older brother was eleven and one half years older so that's a big difference and his Jazz band rehearsed in our house every Thursday night. I was hearing Jazz from a young age. He was in a Jazz band when he was a senior in high school so I would have been six or seven. I was hearing live Jazz right in my house.
John - I heard you practice a lot.
Dave - Yeah, well I write hours a day and if I have time I'll practice. There were years where I didn't have time to practice because I was writing so much. You can't finish a project and be practicing.
John - Your music has always made me feel good. If it's a reflection of what's going on inside you then you must be in a good place.
Dave - Well thanks a lot. I feel so great when we are playing and my group now is so strong. I have Michael Moore on bass, Randy Jones on drums and Bobby Vinotello on sax. It's such a strong group.
John - Well you kind of have a habit of playing with some great people, Paul Desmond being one.
Dave - You know our Duets album just got re-released. I haven't got it yet but some Disc Jockeys told me that it's out. Paul wrote the notes and they're so funny because when I heard it was out I got the old typical lp and I reread the notes and looked at the photographs and I'm hoping the same notes and photographs will be in the new CD. Paul was such a good writer.
John - Columbia have re-released a lot of great stuff such as some of your rarities and I loved the live Miles Davis/John Coltrane that came out last year.
Dave - You know what they're going to do next? Five of mine like Time Out, Time further Out, Time in Outer Space, etc. They're putting them out as a whole five CD package. I'm not sure when it will be put it's coming out soon.
John - Do you get a chance to listen to any new Jazz or are you just too busy with your own stuff?
Dave - Well yeah, I concentrate on my own stuff but I hear other people at festivals and everything's really good, they're all pushing it. I respect the younger Jazz artist a lot. Have you heard that album 'Young Lives and Old Tiger?'
John - Oh yes. That old meets young Jazz buck's album.
Dave - Yeah that's right (laughing) for anyone who wants it, it is on Telarc with these young guys like Christian McBride, Roy Hargrove, Joshua Redman. The older guys were (George) Shearing, (Gerry) Mulligan. I wrote a tune for each guy using the first syllable of there names.
John - There really is so much under the Jazz banner now.
Dave - And they're all stretching it and that's what they're all supposed to do. That was a conscious decision for me in the early days to do something that never has been done or at least change it up a little bit. The people who have my archives just found a recording I made when I was twenty one and you can just tell I'm copying Art Tatum because I just loved his recording and what amazed me is that I had enough technique when I was that age. I think I had more at that point than any other time. Of course, later I wasn't trying to sound like Tatum or other guys I just wanted to sound like myself.
John - So, will you ever slow down or does this pace just come naturally to you?
Dave - Well, I'm only eighty-one. (Laughing)
John - You're still just a young buck.
Dave - (laughing) Yeah, I am.
John - My Dad is about your age and he's still active I think he has this innate belief that age doesn't matter.
Dave - I agree with that and tell your father he's doing the right thing.
John - Schools are cutting funding for their music programs and that's unfortunate when you look at the stats on how music expands the young brain.
Dave - I wish it would expand the school board. They keep making the same mistakes and they all know what you just said. Music is so important for the child's development emotionally and mentally. The discipline that comes with music, they are making such a mistake. You know my wife and I were raised during the great depression and she was from a farm country town and every kid in that school was either in band or orchestra. In a depression how did they get the instruments? Today with all the money out there how can they say they can't afford the instruments. My generation had wonderful music in the schools and it was a strong generation.
John - And it probably brought people together.
Dave - Sure it did. We stuck together and we did what needed to be done. Music was a big part of it.
John - How did you meet your wife?
Dave - At school at the college of Pacific in Stockton and we've been married sixty years this coming Anniversary.
John - Can you still write just about anywhere?
Dave - Oh yeah, I write just about anywhere. When it comes it comes. I just don't waste time. I don't know where it comes from but it's good when it gets there (laughing). I don't think it is necessary important to understand where it comes from some people need to do that I don't not at this stage of my life.
John - Will you wake up at three in the morning and start charting notation.
Dave - It happens a lot in the middle of the night. Yeah, I'll get up and write it down. I keep a note pad in my pocket and one next to my bed. I lost so many things that I know were good thinking of. I'll remember that tomorrow and of course you never remember it.
John - My drumming teacher was one of those read notation no matter what type of guys. How do you feel about reading music?
Dave - Doesn't hurt but anyway you get there is fine as long as you keep doing it.
John - What are you working on right now?
Dave - On a new Telarc release that will go out in the Fall. It's going to be recorded live in Starbucks coffee shop in New York.
John - Really?
Dave - Oh yeah, they've done a lot of Jazz recordings. Telarc and Starbucks had this idea so I thought sure why not.
John - Thanks so much for taking the time have fun on the tour.
Dave - John, thanks for supporting what I do with the website. I think that's great.