About ten years ago, I had a co-worker who played The Marshall Mathers LP until "The Real Slim Shady" was imprinted on my brain like a bad tattoo. After years of independent research, I've found the only way to kill an Earworm is to attack it with another Earworm. In my case, I use the opening drum vamp from "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. In this particular instance, it was extremely cathartic to imagine the late Joe Morello pounding his drumsticks on Eminem's pointy little head.
David Warren Brubeck has now joined Morello and altoist Paul Desmond at what Pink Floyd called "the Great Gig in the Sky." Brubeck died of heart failure on December 5th, one day before his 92nd birthday. His music has been with me since I discovered it at age 7, and the "classic" Brubeck Quartet headlined the first concert I ever saw. Even in his 90s, Brubeck was still making music: He sat in with his son Chris Brubeck's band Triple Play in 2011 at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, NY. It was in college auditoriums like Skidmore's Zankel Music Center where the elder Brubeck inspired a generation of young jazzers six decades before - and that was years before Columbia Records released Time Out, an album every bit as groundbreaking for that time as anything we've gotten from alt-jazzers like Charlie Hunter and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey.
The atypical rhythms that made Time Out such a sensation were inspired by the Brubeck Quartet's State Department-sponsored tour of what was then called "Eurasia," a region that included what we now know as Iraq and Afghanistan. Brubeck documented the experience on the 1958 release Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, but apparently he and Desmond had more to say on the subject -- hence the release of Time Out in 1959. Desmond composed "Take Five," a piece every bit as iconic as anything done by Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington. Until then, "West Coast" jazz had been derided as "too cool for school," and could not stand up next to the "more important" music coming out of the bebop bands of that time. Bang went that meme, even though some traditionalists try keep it alive to this day.
Brubeck did much more than "Take Five," though most obituaries will gloss over that later work. Like Ellington (who Brubeck revered), he wrote and recorded more expansive works, both secular and religious. The 2008 release 50 Years of Dave Brubeck: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival includes two examples of the exemplary music he made with fellow West Coaster Gerry Mulligan. Although Brubeck was in seriously ill health when he stepped on the Zankel stage last year, the age and the illness dropped away the moment he sat down at the piano, just as it had all the times I'd seen him in the previous 15 years.
Maybe I would have discovered jazz without finding Brubeck in my parents' record collection. I'd like to think so, anyway. The fact remains that Dave Brubeck opened that door for me, and made my life a little bit richer. And he kept contributing to that richness right up until today. I never had the chance to meet him, although I've interviewed and corresponded with Chris, who will carry on the family legacy with honor and humor. If I'd ever had the chance to meet Chris' father, I'd have said the same thing I told the late Dr. Billy Taylor backstage at the 2006 Pittsfield Jazz Festival:
"Thank you for… well, for everything!"