Dave Brubeck brought jazz back to 52nd street tonight at The Paley Center for Media. He came for an evening to look at how television has captured his work over the last fifty years.
We watched clips from the heyday of live fifties tv, seeing the young, earnest pencil-tied Dave Brubeck Quartet in glorious black and white on the Timex All -Star Jazz Hour and Playboy’s Penthouse, then early sixties grooving on Blue Rondo a la Turk leading to seventies fusion on the Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, to a recent legends program where he performed with the great Dr. Billy Taylor, who was on the panel tonight too.
The evening was copresented with The Brubeck Institute, started in 2000 at The University of the Pacific to honor its illustrious alumni. They brought the current Brubeck Fellows to perform, five young musicians studying at the Conservatory on full scholarship.
They are deeply talented musicians, with great composure for being 19 or so.
But the thrill of the evening, without a doubt, was Brubeck taking over the piano on Blue Rondo. He is 87 years old—-I thought it was going to be perfunctory, but the piano became an entirely different instrument under his control. Javier Santiago, the young Brubeck Institute Fellow pianist, was great: agile, connected, a talented composer as they played one of his pieces. But once Brubeck was at the keys, Santiago’s playing seemed child-like. Brubeck’s mastery, experience, sheer depth of understanding changed the sound of the piano. It’s an amazing phenomenon to experience, how one instrument can sing so differently for different players.
What was also remarkable about seeing Brubeck is what a grounded human being he is. Somewhat ironic for the genius who lives in the space of odd, unbalanced time signatures. He exudes exuberance. He has been married to the same women for more than 60 years and they have 4 sons. He became a Roman Catholic in 1980, shortly after composing the Mass To Hope. It seems that the dark side of the force that swallowed up the genius of so many of his fellow greats didn’t touch him.
So the Devil can’t count in 5/4 or 9/8. Good to know.