Dave Brubeck - piano; Paul Desmond - alto sax; Eugene Wright - bass; Joe Morello - drums
This appearance by the Dave Brubeck Quartet at George Wein's Midwest Jazz Festival in French Lick, Indiana came a year before the group broke through with their landmark 1959 recording Time Out, which catapulted them to another level of fame on the strength of Paul Desmond's wildly popular "Take Five." They had, of course, already been established as a major jazz act, particularly on the college circuit, and the appreciative French Lick audience was thrilled to have them headlining the final night of their summer 1958 festival.
Morello's insistent tom-tom work kicks off the buoyantly swinging opener, "Nomad" (he played exotic hand percussion for the 1958 Columbia studio recording of the piece on Jazz Impressions of Eurasia). Desmond floats over the top of this upbeat Brubeck original with his inimitable alto sax tone that was described as sounding "like a dry martini." Brubeck follows with a spirited solo that gradually picks up heat, building to locked-hands Milt Buckner-styled crescendo. The exuberant piece culminates in a dynamic Morello drum solo that showcases his inventive approach to the kit. Brubeck's Chopin-influenced solo piano solo intro on "Thank You (Dziekuje)" segues smoothly to the cool, briskly swinging full band rendition underscored by Morello's supple brushwork.
Following "Brandenburg Gate," a delicate Bach invention that has Brubeck and Desmond engaging in near-telepathic exchanges, Morello is unleashed on the drum feature "Sounds of the Loop," which stands alongside his famous "Take Five" solo as among the greatest in the history of jazz drumming. This dynamic closer leaves the French Lick faithful wanting more; they would have to wait a year to get more jazz on this level at the 1959 Midwest Jazz Festival.
A legendary, revered figure in jazz, pianist-composer Dave Brubeck has made frequent appearances over the past 55 years at the Newport Jazz Festival. His compositions like "In Your Own Sweet Way," "The Duke" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" has become standards in jazz repertoire and he will be forever associated with the tune "Take Five," composed by his longtime right-hand man and alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. Born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, California, Brubeck's father was a cattle rancher and his mother, who had dreams of becoming a concert pianist, taught piano to students in her home for extra money. Early on, he took lessons with his mother and later studied music at the College of the Pacific from 1938 to 1942. After graduating, he was drafted into General Patton's Third Army and led a service band overseas. While serving in the Army, he met Paul Desmond in 1944. After four years in the Army, he returned to California and continued his musical education at Mills College, where he studied with the French composer and teacher Darius Milhaud, who sparked his interest in fugues, counterpoint and polytonality. Following his studies under Milhaud, Brubeck helped to establish Fantasy Records out of Berkeley, California. His first recording for the label, in 1949, was with an octet comprised of fellow students from Mills College and is full of complex time signatures and polytonality. He subsequently formed a working trio with drummer-vibraphonist Cal Tjader and bassist Ron Crotty, which gained popularity around the Bay Area.
By 1951, Brubeck was persuaded by altoist Paul Desmond to make the trio a quartet, and a sound was born. Together they took up a long residency at San Francisco's Black Hawk nightclub with drummer Lloyd Davis and bassist Crotty and gained great popularity touring college campuses. Their string of successful recordings - 1953's Jazz at Oberlin and Jazz at the College of the Pacific along with the Brubeck Quartet's 1954 Columbia debut, Jazz Goes to College, led to the pianist-composer being featured on the cover of Time magazine on November 8, 1954, the second jazz musician to be so honored (the first was Louis Armstrong, who appeared on the cover on February 21, 1949). The lineup for the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet was finally cemented when drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright joined in 1955, subsequently appearing on such essential recordings as 1959's ground-breaking, platinum-selling Time Out, 1961's Time Further Out, 1962's Time in Outer Space (dedicated to Apollo astronaut John Glenn) and 1964's Time Change. The final studio album for Columbia by the Brubeck/Desmond/Wright/Morello quartet was 1966's Anything Goes, a collection of Cole Porter songs.
Brubeck composed more extended orchestral and choral works through the '70s while continuing to make small group appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival, sometimes with a group comprised of this three sons Darius on keyboards, Dan on drums, and Chris on electric bass or bass trombone. He kept this Two Generations of Brubeck group together until 1978. He continued to write orchestral works and ballet scores through the '80s and '90s while also making appearances and recordings with smaller jazz groups. In 1994, Brubeck was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame. In 2006, at the 49th Monterey Jazz Festival, Brubeck debuted his commissioned work, Cannery Row Suite, a jazz opera based on John Steinbeck's novel about Monterey's roots as a sardine fishing and packing town. Today, at age 91, Brubeck is still playing vigorously swinging jazz (as evidenced by recent appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival). Truly, he is one for the ages. (Bill Milkowski)