Dave Brubeck - piano; Bob Bates - bass; Joe Dodge - drums; Paul Desmond - alto sax
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" have 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.
Brubeck's appearance with his quartet at the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival came just nine months after his appearance on the cover of Time magazine (Nov. 8, 1954), which helped to create an air of anticipation surrounding his set on Sunday evening, July 17. In introducing the band, master of ceremonies Duke Ellington described Desmond as "a man who has attracted a lot of attention as a creator of very fascinating phrases." Of Brubeck, Duke told the Newport gathering, "He's a great friend of mine. He comes to us from California, he's of the Darius Milhaud school, which of course has its very strong modern French influence."
Described in an August 24, 1955 Down Beat review of the Newport Jazz Festival as "the man so many person had waited to see," Brubeck opened his set with a mellow "Back Bay Blues," a tune he had previously recorded on 1954's Dave Brubeck at Storyville (a document of performances at Wein's Boston-based club between December 1953 and July 1954. Bassist Bates solos nimbly against supple brushwork by Dodge as Brubeck comps elegantly and Desmond floats over the top with his inimitable tone once described as sounding "like a dry martini."
From there they go into a driving rendition of "The Trolley Song," a tune introduced by Judy Garland in the 1944 Hollywood musical Meet Me in St. Louis. Brubeck's version swings briskly, with drummer Dodge setting up a counter pulse in his polyrhythmic ride cymbal work (shades of things to come on 1959's ambitious experiment in rhythm, Time Out). Desmond wails freely and lyrically on this buoyant theme while Dodge, Bates and Brubeck swing as one well-oiled unit beneath him. Their set continues with a marvelous extrapolation of Hoagy Carmichael's "Stardust" which has Desmond improvising melodically around those familiar chord changes. It is followed by a briskly swinging rendition of Brubeck's jaunty "Crazy Chris" (a tune based on the catchy Swing Era riff "Wham! Re-bop-Boom-Bam" which was written by Eddie Durham and popularized in 1944 by the Glenn Miller Orchestra). Their highly-anticipated set culminates with a beautiful interpretation of "Don't Worry About Me," a melancholy ballad that Frank Sinatra had premiered in 1953, one month into his new contract with Capitol Records.