Dave Brubeck - piano; Paul Desmond - alto sax; Eugene Wright - bass; Joe Morello - drums
A legendary, revered figure in jazz, pianist-composer Dave Brubeck has always been a reliable draw for George Wein over the past 55 years at the Newport Jazz Festival. In fact, his recent appearance at the 2009 festival, at age 90, was as highly anticipated an event as Brubeck's first appearance at Newport back in 1954. Brubeck's performance at the 1964 festival with his regular quartet featuring longtime right-hand man Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums was typically swinging, imbued with intricate counterpoint and polyrhythms and marked by signature odd time signatures, as on his classic "Blue Rondo a la Turk" (9/8) and "Unsquare Dance" (7/4) and Desmond's most famous composition, "Take Five" (5/4).
Their appearance at the '64 Newport Jazz Festival came on the heels of a 10-day tour of Japan, which inspired Brubeck to write some new material, some of which was premiered during this Fourth of July set. They open with a bluesy sketch which would later be more fully developed as "Osaka Blues" on 1964's Jazz Impressions of Japan (one of the lesser known gems in Brubeck's discography). After stating the opening theme, Desmond begins his solo with a buttery-smooth tone and agile, blues-tinged lines on alto sax. Brubeck follows by stretching out on an exploratory piano solo that pushes the harmonic envelope while also revealing a decided Earl Hines influence. Wright, the rock of this quartet, then steps out with a nimble bass solo and Morello wraps up this series of solos with some whirlwind work on the kit before the quartet returns to the bluesy theme. Next up is another number influenced by their trip to the Far East, "Koto Song," in which Brubeck cleverly invokes folk melodies of Japan in the fabric of the delicate piece, which is essentially a minor key modal blues.
Shifting moods from that more introspective number, they next launch into a spirited, up-tempo swinging rendition of the Depression-era number, "Pennies from Heaven." Brubeck states the theme with gusto before Desmond enters, floating eloquently over the changes while Wright and Morello heat up the groove beneath him. Brubeck returns to deliver an effervescent two-fisted piano solo before engaging in some spirited exchanges of eights with the incredibly nimble drummer Morello. Brubeck and Desmond allude to a delicate fugue form before repeating the familiar head on the outro. "You Go To My Head" is a sublime example of Desmond's communicative powers on ballads. His searching high register approach on alto sax, which closely resembles the sound of a soprano sax, is both tonally appealing and is delivered with a kind of intimate vocal quality that is thoroughly engaging. Both Desmond and Brubeck have plenty of room to stretch on this 10-and-a-half minute standard. The pianist's cascading, harmonically probing solo—making use of a wide range of dynamics and rhythmic variations, from rhapsodic to stride—is one of the more inventive moments of the set.
They close it out with their catchy hit from 1959, Desmond's "Take Five." The Newport audience erupts with cheers of recognition as they state the familiar opening theme, and then the quartet heads deep into that mesmerizing 5/4 groove, with Desmond blowing freely over the top, showcasing his brilliance as a melodic improviser, while Brubeck investigates all the harmonic and rhythmic angles during his adventurous solo. "Take Five" is also renowned for Morello's extended, virtuosic solo in the middle of the piece, and he doesn't disappoint the Newport fans. His polyrhythmic, melodic approach to the kit here is something that both drum students and veterans alike will admire.
The quartet leaves the stage to unison shouts of "We want more," to which stage announcer replies, "All the 'we want mores' can go home. You should've come this afternoon, because this is when this all started." An abrupt ending to a beautiful set.
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 alto-ist 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).
In 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet (with Desmond on alto, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums) created the groundbreaking, platinum-selling Time Out, which contained such tricky time signature pieces as the 5/4 "Take Five" and the 9/8 piece "Blue Rondo a la Turk." It remains an essential recording in any jazz fan's collection. That same group followed up the wild success of Time Out with 1961's Time Further Out (including the 7/4 "Unsquare Dance"), 1962's Time in Outer Space (dedicated to Apollo astronaut John Glenn), and 1964's Time Change (with the 11/4 piece "World's Fair").
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. To date, Brubeck is still playing vigorously swinging jazz with his new quartet and recording for the Telarc label.
Brubeck and Desmond, who had met in the late 1940s, remained potent, inseparable musical partners through 1967, when the quartet was disbanded. Desmond subsequently worked with Gerry Mulligan, Jim Hall, Chet Baker, and the Modern Jazz Quartet while also leading his own quartet. He and Brubeck were reunited on 1975's The Duets, an intimate offering on the A&M/Horizon label. Desmond's last gigs were at Brubeck Quartet reunion concerts, held shortly before he died of lung cancer on May 30, 1977. (Milkowski)