The eldest son of jazz legend Dave Brubeck talks to Peter Bacon about performing his father’s music at Birmingham Town Hall.
You may not have noticed but when you are sitting in front of the TV and that Waitrose advert comes on telling you how what you thought was the posh supermarket is actually selling a can of baked beans at the same price as Tesco, you are at the same time listening to the Dave Brubeck Quartet playing Take Five.
And were that ad to be followed by the McDonald’s one championing their full bean coffee, well then the Brubeck Quartet would segue nicely into Unsquare Dance.
So why are two of the most savvy advertisers promoting their wares with music that is over 40 years old and created by a man who will be 90 on December 6?
It’s music that sounds as fresh and contemporary in 2010 as it did when Harold Macmillan was in No.10 and the first Mini was rolling off the assembly line.
And it will sound fresh and contemporary at Birmingham Town Hall on Monday as well, courtesy of Darius Brubeck on piano, Chris Brubeck on bass and Dan Brubeck on drums. The three Americans, sons of Dave, will be joined by British saxophonist Dave O’Higgins for this celebration of the music the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
I asked Darius what life was like as a teenager at a time when Take Five was coming out of every radio and his father’s band was enjoying that household name kind of popularity – a popularity that no jazz group has achieved since.
“There was a sense of exhilaration, I remember,” he says. “It was a time when Dave was getting involved in really creative projects which involved other people as well, which was why I was able to meet Louis Armstrong and Leonard Bernstein.
“There was that pop star thing, certainly, in terms of record sales and being played on the radio… but it was leading up to the British invasion of the Beatles and so forth, and all of a sudden the mass audience was a different demographic.
“It wasn’t like the Quartet lost its audience, but there was just a much louder, wilder, more energetic audience, who were going after The Beatles rather than after acoustic jazz.
“And yet, the Dave Brubeck Quartet continued selling out huge venues and festivals, consistently, everywhere in the world.”
Did he always know that he, too, would go into the “family business” as it were?
“No, I didn’t think so. I suppose I was trying to dodge having to measure up, for one thing, as the eldest and the pianist,” says Darius. “I didn’t really think of it as an exceptional activity because my grandmother was a piano teacher. All my father’s friends were musicians. “I just thought: ‘this is what you do, you play’. I saw it as a lifestyle but I didn’t see it as a career.”
Nevertheless, it became Darius’s career, both as a performer and as an educator.
I first became aware of Darius and his music in South Africa. He had been chosen to head up a jazz degree course at the University of Natal in Durban. He stayed a long time, and his music still has strong South African influences.
How did he feel about his time in South Africa?
“It was a place where you knew the music really mattered – and that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter in other places.
“But jazz just meant everything there, in terms of relevancy and reconciliation, and in terms of identity, in terms of the doors it opened. It was how South African musicians joined the world.
“To work in South Africa was an opportunity to contribute where I felt empowered rather than disadvantaged by being foreign – that I was offering that opening. For me it was an opportunity, literally, to make history. And most people aren’t fortunate to get that chance.”
Before the South African years, Darius and his brothers had played their father’s music touring with him as Two Generations of Brubeck. Now, Dave has, quite understandably, given up touring outside the United States, so it is up to his sons to fly the international flag for the family and his music.
Brubecks Play Brubeck is the name of the tour – a specific UK undertaking – that started in Liverpool earlier this month and ends in Eastbourne on December 3. On that night BBC Four will screen Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way, an Arena film made by Clint Eastwood.
Three days later it will be screened in the US, and Darius and his brothers will be with their father to watch it and celebrate his 90th birthday.
In the meantime, we can all mark this red-letter day of one of the greatest living jazz musicians in advance, with Brubecks Play Brubeck at Birmingham Town Hall. So what can we expect to hear?
“Well, we’ll be playing the hits, of course. The programme is almost 100 per cent Dave Brubeck and we’re going to try to cover all kinds of things in his music from the cool counterpoint to the funkier aspects. “And, of course, the wonderful ballads that were originally written as solo piano pieces but were eventually sung by Louis Armstrong, Carmen McRae and others. This is really a tribute to Dave and his music that became so well known and still remains so – just listen to the TV adverts.”
* The concert begins at 7.30pm on Monday, November 29 and tickets are available from www.thsh.co.uk or on 0121 780 3333.