Dave Brubeck - piano; Paul Desmond - alto sax; Ron Crotty - bass; Lloyd Davis - drums
In 1950, the 25-year-old jazz-loving entrepreneur and Boston native George Wein opened a nightclub in the Copley Square Hotel. He called it Storyville. Named for the historic section in New Orleans where prostitution was confined by city ordinance, it was also reputedly the birthplace of jazz (pioneers like Jelly Roll Morton played piano in the bordellos of Storyville as a teenager). Wein's Storyville was an instant success. The room was inaugurated in late September 1950 by the Bob Wilber Septet and the place was packed every night since. The following year, Wein relocated to a larger room in the Hotel Buckminster on Kenmore Square near the Boston Red Sox's home, Fenway Park. Wein once again hired clarinetist Wilber to inaugurate the new room in the first week of February 1951. During that year, Wein booked such stars as boogie woogie piano pioneer Meade Lux Lewis, jazz piano virtuoso Art Tatum, tenor saxophonist Stan Getz, iconic jazz singer Billie Holiday, pianists George Shearing and Erroll Garner and legendary soprano saxophonist Sidney Bechet. By 1952, he was booking stars like Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan and by 1953 the club was operating in the black. Dave Brubeck had first appeared at Storyville in September 1952 when he was still an up-and-coming pianist-composer-bandleader. His fee for the quartet then was $800 for the week. The quartet recorded live at Storyville on October 22, 1952 (released the following year on the Fantasy label as Jazz at Storyville). Brubeck's quartet, featuring Paul Desmond on alto sax, Ron Crotty on bass and Lloyd Davis on drums, returned to play Storyville in 1953, a year before Wein began the Newport Jazz Festival. Wein commented on the Brubeck quartet's distinctive interplay in his autobiography, "Myself Among Others: A Life in Music": "When the group started to play, their sound created a musical alchemy that everyone could feel."
Desmond's lyrical, melodious alto (once described as "the sound of a dry martini") dominates the Storyville set. They open with a swinging rendition of the buoyant George and Ira Gershwin number, "Love Walked In" that has Desmond improvising freely. Bassist Crotty and drummer Davis lay down a reliably swinging foundation for Desmond's melodic solo and also Brubeck's more harmonically adventurous chordal solo that follows. The two also engage in some elegant call-and-response mid-song and at the stage that actually sounds more like chamber-like counterpoint than jazz. Next up is an inventive interpretation of the Jerome Kern-Dorothy Fields show tune "The Way You Look Tonight" that involves Desmond flying through scales over chords, a la Parker, while Brubeck holds to the harmony in half-time. Desmond quotes nonchalantly from Charlie Parker's "Anthropology" and the Swing era staple "Just You Just Me" in the course of his freewheeling, buttery-toned solo. Brubeck's solo is another a two-fisted display of rhythmic chordal work on the keyboard, with some clever harmonic extrapolations along the way. And once again the two kindred spirits exhibit rare chemistry with their fugue-like interplay along the way. Slowing things down, Brubeck displays an uncanny sensitivity and an elegant touch behind Desmond's lyrical alto work on a soothing rendition of the romantic standard "These Foolish Things (Remind Me of You)." Brubeck again explores myriad chord voicings and clever reharmonizations on his thoughtful, poignant solo while Desmond conjures up swirling filigrees with his dry martini alto sound. They conclude their set with a spirited reinvention of Duke Ellington's "Perdido," which again incorporates Brubeck's clever arranging skills and highlights Desmond's flowing tones on alto.
This Storyville appearance came a year before Brubeck would make the cover of Time magazine, and six years before the quartet's groundbreaking, best-selling album Time Out would make him a bona fide jazz superstar.
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 an 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, an octet comprised of fellow students from Mills College, 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).
In 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet (with Desmond on alto, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums) created the ground breaking, 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 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. 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. He has recorded exclusively for the Telarc label since 1994's Late Night Brubeck: Live from the Blue Note. That same year, Brubeck was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame. In 2000, he recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra for his 80th Birthday Concert. 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. And he got nostalgic, at age 86, with 2007's Indian Summer, a solo piano work comprised of Brubeck's ruminations on standards of the mid-20th century, the period when he was just coming up as an artist and blossoming as a young man.
At age 91, Brubeck is still playing vigorously swinging jazz, as evidenced by his appearance at the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival. (Bill Milkowski)