1. Take the “A” Train 7:42
2. Discussion of tuning problem
3. These Foolish Things 8:00
4. Sounds of the Loop 5:48
5. The Wright Groove 2:30
6. St. Louis Blues 8:40
7. Two Part Contention 10:52
8. One Moment Worth Years 3:30
9. I’m In a Dancing Mood 3:12
10. Someday My Prince Will Come 8:00
11. “Our Version of the Blues” 9:40
12. Pennies From Heaven 12:45
Date of Concert: April 8, 1958
Library Of Congress Title/Carrier #: 195460
Jazz Ambassadors, Detuned but Undeterred - Doug Anderson
In early 1958, the newly minted Quartet lineup travelled throughout Europe, South Asia, and Eurasia as “jazz ambassadors” for the United States. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, this Cold War cultural program sought to build goodwill with foreign audiences by giving them a first-hand taste of American arts and music. From March until May of that year, Dave, Paul, Gene, and Joe played to enthusiastic crowds in Poland, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. The program was a two-way street: The Quartet’s exposure to exotic rhythms and scales helped to further catalyze their poly-rhythmic, polytonal experimentation, and for the rest of Brubeck’s life the ’58 State Department tour would figure prominently in his discussions of his career. But, notwithstanding its influence, no recordings from the tour have ever been released.
On Tuesday, April 8, 1958, the Quartet kicked off their performances in New Delhi, India with an open-air jazz concert hosted by the Delhi University Music Society. Approximately 3,500 concert-goers converged on the lawn of the University gardens to hear their first taste of live, American jazz. As it turned out, the performance was a novelty not only for the audience, but for the performers, too.
The U.S. Embassy officer charged with managing the Quartet’s Delhi visit, Eugene Rosenfeld, was a jazz aficionado and amateur piano player, delighted to be tasked with arranging things for the visiting musicians. One of his key responsibilities was “to go looking around for a piano for Brubeck to play,” which wasn’t the easiest assignment in Delhi in the late Fifties. As he described it, “I dug out a piano from one of the hotels, and got it tuned by a Sikh who was the only tuner in town. I had it lugged out to the University on a bullock cart.”
According to press accounts, the concert got off to a late start. The restless crowd was then subjected to long-winded introductory remarks by a representative of the University Music Society (who admonished them against “wild and exuberant” outbursts during songs, leaning against loudspeakers, and rushing the stage, among other things).
When Brubeck finally took the mic and announced the first song -- Duke Ellington’s “Take the 'A' Train" -- the audience erupted in cheers. Brubeck launched into the tune full steam ahead, his energetic piano propelled by Morello's intricate cymbal work and Wright's driving bass. Twenty seconds later, Desmond swung his impeccable alto into action.
But something wasn't right. As Rosenfeld recalled, “they started to play and they started looking at each other." The problem was the piano: "It turns out that the thing was about a half a tone off, and Desmond on the saxophone couldn't tune to it." The group threw quizzical looks in Rosenfeld's direction, but at that point there was nothing that could be done to fix it. Brubeck and the rhythm section powered through the next seven minutes with Brubeck and Morello spending nearly half of the song in inspired rhythmic dueling. Desmond rejoined them only at the very end, with his few, tentative notes sitting uneasily atop the mix.
In the break between songs, a quick comparison between the instruments confirmed the diagnosis, which Brubeck announced to the audience: "We're having our troubles up here because of the pitch of the piano and the instruments being slightly different. But we'll figure out a way."
Brubeck then announced that the next song would be "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)," before playfully adding, to audience laughter: "Nothing personal at all in the title."
At that point, the Quartet drew on their formidable musicianship and powers of improvisation to weave their performances artfully around the limitation. The two-set show that followed did not sound handicapped or hamstrung in the least. But long-time fans of the quartet will discern a subtly different flavor.In particular, Brubeck and Desmond -- while remaining key contributors to each track -- give each other respectful distance, and more room to "stretch out" during solos. As if to compensate, Joe Morello seems a bit more assertive, his drums providing more interplay with the piano than usual.
To take one example, "St. Louis Blues," a mainstay of Quartet concerts, was given a unique rendering, which Brubeck dedicated to the composer, W.C. Handy, who had just died during the previous week. After an uncharacteristically slow, spare reading of the opening melody, it builds to a swinging groove, culminating in a rhythmic duel between drums and piano before resolving back to the spare, opening melody. Brubeck sounds particularly engaged, with louder than usual vocalizing (and a shouted "Yeah, dog!") during his solo.
Even the Indian music critics were impressed. The next day's Hindustan Times declared the concert "delightful," while the Times of India called it "original and enjoyable," and effused that the pianist, saxophone player, bassist, and drummer "all are of an excellence unknown outside a first-rate film or record."
Sound Quality: This monophonic recording has the constrained dynamics and feel of a vintage radio broadcast, with a decent helping of analog hiss and audible phasing, which is most apparent in the sound of the cymbals. While the piano is a bit muffled, Desmond’s alto cuts consistently through the mix.The performances are definitely there to be heard, and the spoken-word explanations between (and interjections during) songs are clear. As a piece of musical history, it is eminently listenable, although not an audiophile musical experience. While the VOA collection at the Library of Congress also contains recordings from other stops on this tour (Bombay and Ankara),the recording of the Delhi show is of the best technical quality.
"Delightful Jazz Concert: Performance by U.S. Group." The Hindustan Times [New Delhi] 9 Apr. 1958, < http://digitalcollections.pacific.edu/cdm/ref/collection/brubeck1958/id/125>.
O'Brien, John R, and Eugene Rosenfeld. Interview with Eugene Rosenfeld. 1989. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,
"Original and Enjoyable: Brubeck Quartet." The Times of India [New Delhi] 9 Apr. 1958, < http://digitalcollections.pacific.edu/cdm/ref/collection/brubeck1958/id/124>.
(Text Copyright 2016, Douglas C. Anderson)