News

Jazzman Dave Brubeck Still Jamming at 86

Composer and pianist Dave Brubeck has been a leading figure in jazz for more than half a century. He got his start in music as a student at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, in California's Central Valley. He also met his future wife, Iola, on the campus. The couple recently returned as Brubeck, 86, performed in the annual Brubeck Festival.

It was a fitting venue for the legendary musician. Dave Brubeck popularized jazz in the 1950s when his quartet took their music out of nightclubs and onto college campuses, with hits like "Take Five," written by Paul Desmond, Brubeck's alto saxophonist.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet became a sensation, with Brubeck on piano, Desmond on sax, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums. In 1954, as jazz was sweeping the country, Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time magazine. He and his quartet toured the world as part of the U.S. government's efforts at cultural diplomacy, visiting Poland, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Iran,Iraq, and many other countries.

Jazz is international, but Brubeck says the innovative music reflects its American roots. "Our greatest gift to the world is what you have in jazz, which is freedom within very significant, understood rules." Brubeck says there is a kind of jazz that offers freedom without rules, but he prefers structure with room for improvising. He says that is how society works best, as well.

The University of the Pacific is home to the Dave Brubeck Archive, which has more than 60 years' worth of recordings and documents related to Brubeck's career. Among the hundreds of thousands of items is a handwritten lullaby that the musician wrote for Iola when both were students here, and printed programs from his performances at the White House.

Archivist Michael Wurtz says the collection sheds light on America's music and history, pulling out a 40-year-old letter. "This is written from the head of the music department at the University of Alabama in 1967," he says, explaining that the Dave Brubeck Quartet performed the music department's first racially-integrated public performance. The college official wrote that it set a precedent, opening public events to members of all races.

Brubeck had already led a racially integrated musical group during World War II, while he was in the Army, and his famous quartet included African-American bassist Eugene Wright. Brubeck turned down concert engagements rather than play in segregated settings, or agree to demands that Wright perform off-stage.

Dave Brubeck says he was never good at reading music, which prompted his college dean to try to keep him from graduating. His professors were impressed with his talent, however, and brokered an agreement that he would graduate if he agreed never to teach piano.

He is now a towering figure in the world of music, and University of the Pacific president Don DeRosa includes himself among Brubeck's ardent fans. The musician returns to the campus each year, staying involved with a program that trains young musicians, who are known as Brubeck Fellows.

Dave Brubeck says he plans to keep performing. "All of my friends that I have grown up with playing -- and the great ones -- no matter what happens in their lives, they seem to want to keep playing because it restores your health and your growth. To have that happiness that is on a stage with musicians that are playing well, it is about the happiest thing that can happen."

Brubeck is known for his innovative timing, and his range of compositions, which include religious choral music as well as jazz. He continues to challenge himself, and his newest composition is based on the novel Cannery Row by writer John Steinbeck.

Music is always moving in new directions, Brubeck says, adding "You never know where it is going to go. You never know where there is going to be another Louis Armstrong or [Duke] Ellington or Chopin or Beethoven. And sometimes there is a new master like a Mozart coming into this world, and they will lead us in a certain direction that we don't know what it is going to be."

Filmmaker Clint Eastwood, a friend and fan of Brubeck since his teenaged years, is overseeing a film documentary about the musician, tentatively called Dave Brubeck: In his Own Sweet Way.

More American Profiles

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs