My Muses: First, Dave Brubeck

I’ve heard Calvin Trillin speak a couple of times. The man is wicked funny. The last time I heard him he recited poetry in which he rhymed “Rodham” with “Sodom” and “Señora” with “Gommorah” in describing Bill Clinton’s presidency. Nothing against Clinton personally but Trillin is funny. He’s one of my heroes for his prolific writings and for the varied forms he tackles and dominates.

I’ve got three other heroes of the same ilk (prolific and working in different genres): Dave Brubeck, David Byrne, and Steve Martin.

I’m just taking the time to celebrate the creativity of these men by sharing some of their work with you. Today’s focus is Dave Brubeck.

Dave Brubeck is 91 and still performing with his quartet, one of many incarnations of it. He graced the cover of Time magazine in 1954 and the band became known for unusual time signatures, touring on college campuses and innovative jazz. In the quartet’s heyday, they put out four albums a year. He performs and records prolifically and is still going strong as a jazz pianist and composer who melds jazz and classical music. . 

He’s also known for integrating music halls, refusing to play if his black band member was not welcome. I love the piece he wrote about God being a zebra, both black and white, which Louis Armstrong poignantly recorded (They Say I Look Like God) on The Real Ambassadors. Brubeck uses his creativity to entertain, but also to shake us up.

Here’s a favorite quote of his: “There’s a way of playing safe, there’s a way of using tricks and there’s the way I like to play which is dangerously, where you’re going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven’t created before.”

From the time I was small and began recognizing and requesting his pieces when my mother played them on the piano to today (at which point I’ve probably heard him ten times in concert), this man has brought incredible joy into my life.

He thought he should head into ranching, his father’s business, because two brothers beat him to the musical route, but thank heavens a professor wisely noted his desire to be in the conservatory rather than study veterinary medicine and sent him that direction. The world is better for it!




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