Pittsfield CityJazz Festival: A father's legacy carried on in Brubeck Brothers Quartet



There is special significance in the appearance of the Brubeck Brothers Quartet as the centerpiece of this year's Pittsfield CityJazz Festival, on Saturday night at the Colonial Theatre.

"Dave Brubeck made his final appearance in the Berkshires during the 2009 festival," says festival director, Ed Bride, "and (now) his sons are carrying on a very important legacy."

And indeed, Chris Brubeck, the group's bass and trombonist, recognizes that legacy.

Over the years, his father, Dave Brubeck, the great American jazz pianist and composer, who died in December, one day short of his 92nd birthday, shared many words of wisdom with his children, five of whom became musicians.

Chris, his third son, now 61, recalls a simple, but solid, four-word refrain: "Composition is selective improvisation."

"It was an incredibly important quote conveyed to me from my father; but the person the quote originated from was none other than the colossal Igor Stravinsky," Brubeck explained during a recent telephone conversation from his home in Wilton, Conn.

"What it means to me -- as a person that straddles both the jazz world and the classical world -- is that the source in the brain and the initial spark of inspiration for both jazz and classical music come from the same creative place in the mind and soul of the artist.

"A jazz musician lets the musical idea fly off the cuff on the spur, on the bandstand, and unless the performance was recorded and turned into a record or transcribed by some rabid fan; it is ephemeral and goes flying out into the musical cosmos.

"A composer takes this parallel spark of a creative musical idea and remembers it, massages it, plays with it, records it and more probably writes it down, committing the idea to paper. Then this idea becomes the cornerstone of something that, with more imagination and hard work, evolves into a bigger phrase, then melody, then section, perhaps even the basic musical cell of an entire symphony.

"That's my mantra," observed Brubeck, who added that he also learned by his father's example, which reflected that hard work.

"It takes thousands of hours of work -- all the details of marking articulations and phrases and dynamics, and learning the ranges and timbres of instruments. I think there are a lot of people who could have been successful, but it takes perseverance. I grew up seeing my father working on it very hard."

Brubeck related a favorite story about the man who often in conversation he calls "Dave":

"His doctor said ‘You should ride a stationary bike' So my dad got a carpenter to construct a bike on a platform so he could compose, practice and exercise at the same time."

Imbued with the hard-work ethic Chris Brubeck has established an estimable career as a player -- primarily now of electric bass and bass trombone, but on occasion, piano as well -- and as a composer -- in addition to a prolific jazz regimen, he has written several works for chamber and symphony orchestras including the collaboration with his father, "Ansel Adams: America," a symphonic tribute to the great American photographer who happened also to be a classically-trained musician.

After performing in several groups, including his father's band, Chris has settled into his role with the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, an ensemble formed nine years ago with his brother, Dan, on drums; Mike Dimicco, guitar, and Chuck Lamb, piano.

The band has been on tour with a tribute to Dave Brubeck, playing Hollywood Bowl, the Montreal and Monterey jazz festivals and a memorial concert at St. John the Divine in New York that included among its participants more than 50 of the world's greatest jazz players, according to Brubeck.

The tribute, incorporating much of the music on the quartet's latest album, "LifeTimes," will be performed Saturday night. The quartet will be joined on the program by the Berkshires Jazz Youth Ensemble, according to Bride, president of Berkshires Jazz, which sponsors Pittsfield CityJazz.

"Dave was very much alive when we made "LifeTimes,' " said Chris. "We just wanted to make it official (to him): ‘We really appreciate your compositions, your recordings.' "

The album was originally titled "Duke Ellington Meets Darius Milhaud" -- a reference to the composer who was Dave Brubeck's composition teacher at Mills College in California.

The numbers chosen for the disk point toward members of what Brubeck called "our immediate and extended musical family" -- among them, siblings Cathy, Dan and Darius; and the great Ella Fitzgerald.

And, of course, they included, "Take Five,"bassist Paul Desmond's wonderfully ambient piece that became the Dave Brubeck Band's signature.

"We did those tunes with fresh arrangements, and we had so much joy," exclaimed Chris. "We said, ‘Hey, dad, here is a rough mix.'

"He had a wide grin."


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