Dave Brubeck: Timeless cool
Legendary pianist and composer Dave Brubeck recorded his new solo piano album, “Indian Summer,” with an injured ankle. It’s imperceptible, of course, incomparable pro that he is. The liner notes just happen to mention the unfortunate encounter with a wayward hotel bed frame – further proof (as if we need any) that seemingly limitless creative energy fuels this “West Coast Cool” pioneer’s musicianship.
“I think I’m pretty well-healed, so to speak,” Brubeck says, with a laugh, when asked how he is feeling.
One of Brubeck’s tuneful skills is the employment of laid-back restraint. When asked if he has always had that ageless, tasteful sound, Brubeck chuckles.
“Well, I’ve been fortunate to work with so many great musicians that had similar taste,” he says. “And when you’re the leader, you’ve got to be part psychiatrist, because when you’ve got these top musicians like Paul Desmond or Gerry Mulligan or Joe Morello or Cal Tjader, each guy has his own approach to playing. And you’ve got to satisfy them and yet have your sound of your group. And that’s why you have to be very careful, with who you hire and how you figure out what you’re going to do and what you’re going to record.”
Ironic that a man widely celebrated for a song named after having a break (“Take Five”) has barely relaxed for decades. For much of their lives Brubeck and his consummate lyricist wife, Iola, have worked together.
“My wife said if we ever get a chance to live again, she would not want to do what we’ve been doing, which is having the office in our house with other people working here, five days a week,” Brubeck says. “And so it’s just made it very hard for us to enjoy life because there’s always something… So, we never rest. That’s the only fault I have in my life. And it doesn’t look like we’re going to have time to, as long as I can keep up my health. It’s just a non-stop tour.”
Even though his downtime is uptime, in a sense, Brubeck clearly loves what he does, passing that passion on to four of his sons. While other families gather round the piano during the holidays, the Brubeck clan gathers round the concert.
“There’s certain things we do, like New Year’s Eve, for the last three years, [we] have played in Florida on Sanibel Island, even broadcast coast to coast two New Year’s ago from a nightclub called Ellington’s,” Brubeck explains. “And so I get to see the kids – my sons, and my daughter with her family.”
Also, the London Symphony Orchestra has brought the family back to play with the orchestra every five years since the pianist turned seventy.
“And that’s for my birthday in December. So usually it develops into Christmas in London,” Brubeck says, jovially. “With grandchildren and great-grandchildren. So that’s how we get together with the family is these wonderful concerts.”
Most of Brubeck’s brood will also be at the Newport Jazz Festival this year. After some family time in the Brubeck tradition (“my sons are playing on the same day, on a different stage”) he takes off to play San Diego a couple days later and then tours California.
Brubeck also has many projects in post-production, including a documentary by his long-time friend, Clint Eastwood, focused on a labor of love, Brubeck’s “Cannery Row Suite,” as if touring and the new album are not enough.
With a timely release, “Indian Summer” radiates more than enough Brubeck goodness in which fans can bask. Gorgeously reflective, it features thoughtful arrangements of exquisitely wistful standards and Brubeck originals. Brubeck highlights the longing chord progression in the verse on “I Don’t Stand A Ghost of a Chance With You,” repeats the “days dwindle down” motif in “September Song” and lovingly traces the melody of his wife Iola’s lyrics on “Summer Song.” He may hint at being in the autumn of his years, but Brubeck will always exude timeless cool.