Darius Brubeck - taking five for dad


Darius Brubeck is uniquely placed to pay tribute to his father, Dave’s music. As an eleven year old schoolboy he accompanied his father’s quartet on the 1958 U.S. State Department tour that was pivotal in turning Dave Brubeck into a jazz icon.


“I remember it fairly clearly,” he says. “My mother and younger brother Michael, who sadly passed last year, stayed on the tour as far as Turkey and then it continued on through Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and India. And it was on that tour that dad began to see another direction that jazz could fruitfully follow. He came home with the ideas that became Calcutta Blues and Blue Rondo a la Turk, which became part of the repertoire that made him an icon to the wider public. So you could say that I knew Dave Brubeck before he became Dave Brubeck.”


With that rare phenomenon, a jazz hit single, achieved through Blue Rondo a la Turk’s fellow album track Take Five, a major change affected the whole Brubeck family. From their home in sunny California, at the request of Columbia Records, who released a series of big selling albums beginning with Time Out, the Brubecks relocated to the east coast, to Connecticut, from where the Dave Brubeck Quartet continued its world conquering touring schedule.


For Darius, having a father who played music for a living felt entirely natural.


“My first impression, pre-school, was that this was what adults did,” he says. “My grandmother was a piano teacher who had studied in London and brought her knowledge back to this cow town in California which, aside from Los Angeles, was still pretty much a frontier kind of a place at the time, and my dad’s older brothers, Howard and Henry, and his best friends, Paul Desmond and Cal Tjader, were all musicians. So I suppose it was inevitable that my brothers and I followed suit.”


At home, there was a ready-made jazz trio, with Darius on piano, brother Chris, who studied trombone but played bass initially for fun, and Dan, a classically trained percussionist – although Darius reckons he’s never put this talent to proper use – on drums. Daunted by his father’s reputation, however, Darius looked in directions beyond simply playing jazz and became more academically inclined.


He would go on to initiate Africa’s first degree course in jazz studies when he moved to Durban, in South Africa in 1983, holding the position of Director of the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal until 2005. But before that he played jazz-rock with guitarist Larry Coryell and worked with singer-songwriter Don McLean, as well as touring and recording with the family bands Two Generations of Brubeck and the New Brubeck Quartet.


“I’d had my own trio that used to play cocktail parties while I was at university and while I was thinking about what I was going to do next there always seemed to be a few gigs on the horizon,” says Darius, who now divides his time between France and London. “So I kind of fell into being a musician and added teaching later. The Two Generations idea came when we formed dad’s group, Chris’s band, which dad always called a rock band, although it was playing quite advanced jazz-blues-funk, and my group into a touring package. After a while that became quite unwieldy – although we made a couple of albums for Atlantic Records – and so we streamlined it into the New Brubeck Quartet, which was dad, Chris, Dan and myself as second keyboards player, playing dad’s music but in all-new versions.”


Working with the creator of a body of work that was by now internationally revered, even – or especially - if he is your father, might seem potentially fraught with pitfalls. But this was emphatically not the case.


“Dad was extraordinarily laissez-faire as a band leader,” says Darius. “I mean, he’d let us know if he was disappointed with the way something turned out. But he liked us to come up with our own ideas - the music sounded very different from the original compositions except when he was playing – and he didn’t like things to be too arranged. He always played in the risk-taking jazz tradition where you just let the music flow and inspiration happens in the moment.”


With the head of the family approaching his ninetieth birthday next month and now retired from international touring, although still performing selected dates such as Newport Jazz Festival with Wynton Marsalis this summer, Darius and brothers Chris and Dan wanted to go out and celebrate their father’s legacy. In addition to the quartet they’ve put together, Brubecks Play Brubeck, whose current UK tour brings them to Scotland this weekend, BBC Four will mark Dave Brubeck’s 90th anniversary with an Arena profile, co-produced by Clint Eastwood, on December 3.


Brubecks Plays Brubeck has one non-Brubeck – although he is a Dave (saxophonist Dave O’Higgins who plays in Darius’ London-based band) – and is faced with the problem of what to leave out when it comes to putting a set-list together.


“We wouldn’t do this tribute without including the hits,” says Darius. “So Take Five, Blue Rondo a la Turk and Square Dance are obvious choices. But beyond that, dad has such a vast repertoire that, if this group takes off, we could easily do a tour every year without repeating a tune, except for the hits. At the moment we have enough material worked up for two concerts, so we’ll see how it goes. The good thing is that we’ve grown up with this music and we know it so well, and it’s an added bonus to know that people already like it.”


From The Herald, November 18, 2010.


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