The New Brubeck Documentary

Dave Brubeck is getting a lot of attention. With his 90th birthday three days away, he is the subject of performance reviews, articles and editorials in dozens of newspapers from The New York Times to The Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times and Britain’s Guardian. His music is being played over the Brubeck Time.jpgair to a degree unprecedented since the early 1960s, when “Take Five” was a popular hit. On National Public Radio, Terry Gross replays her 1999 Fresh Air interview with Brubeck. Viewers of cable television in the United States and the BBC in Great Britain can celebrate Brubeck’s 90th birthday by watching a new documentary. Dave Brubeck, In His Own Sweet Way traces his life, career, influences, and effect on modern music and culture. The program is running this evening at 9 on BBC4 and in the US on Monday, Brubeck’s birthday, on the TCM channel at 5 pm EST, 2 pm PST.
With Clint Eastwood as executive producer and occasional on-screen guide, the documentary directed by Bruce Ricker combines film, videotape, audio recordings and photographs from a variety of sources and uses them to tell of Brubeck’s transformation from budding cattleman to an artist whose music reached around the world. It includes a previously unreleased conversation between Brubeck and Walter Cronkite, sequences of the classic Brubeck quartet with Paul Desmond, Eugene Wright and Joe Morello, and fellow musicians evaluating Brubeck’s importance.
Ricker is impressive in his skill at coalescing and blending disparate elements—especially pieces of unrelated interviews—into a coherent and entertaining story. The consummate filmmaker Eastwood was often in the editing room with him. The rare films include Brubeck’s teacher Darius Milhaud at work composing, Desmond and BrubeckBrubeck Desmond.jpg playing in the early days and lots of footage and photos of the large, affectionate and talented family of six children headed by Brubeck and his wife Iola. The program explains Mrs. Brubeck’s crucial role in managing the original quartet’s connection to college campuses, a move that established the band as a force in jazz and started a cultural trend. Desmond is amusing in his graphic description of Brubeck’s tendency to wildness at the keyboard in the early years of their partnership.
Apparently because of their closeness to Eastwood, the documentary brings in pop singer Jamie Cullum and crossover pianist David Benoit to discuss Brubeck’s music, with occasional interjections by Bill Cosby. Eastwood’s friend director George Lucas helps Thumbnail image for Brubeck facing right.jpgmake Eastwood’s case that fellow northern Californians like Brubeck, Jack London and Ansel Adams are a breed apart. Sting and Yo-Yo Ma also make appearances, Ma in a lively cello duet with Brubeck’s youngest son Matthew. The actor Alec Baldwin does the film’s narration, which is spare, low-key and infrequent. The sound and pictures make the point: Dave Brubeck achieved success without varying from quiet, rigorous devotion to his principles. This documentary will charm his fans and advocates. It may make his detractors reconsider.
TCM will precede the Brubeck documentary with a showing at 1:30 pm EST of the 1962 British movie All Night Long, a modern retelling of Shakespeare’s Othello, in which Brubeck and Charles Mingus, his friend from early San Francisco days, make cameo appearances and play a duet.
Naturally, Brubeck’s record companies are capitalizing on all of the fuss. Brubeck reissues abound. Concord, the music conglomerate that has acquired upwards of a dozen labels, owns Fantasy, a company Brubeck helped to found in 1949. Its two-CD compilation The Definitive Dave Brubeck reaches back far beyond the FantasyBrubeck Concord.jpg years to “I Found a New Baby,” a solo he recorded in 1942 as a college student. It continues with the octet he formed after World War Two, trio performances from the late forties and early fifties and a substantial cross section of tracks by the quartet he formed with Paul Desmond in 1951. It includes the original quartet’s breathtaking 1953 performances of “How High the Moon” at Oberlin College and “All the Things You Are” at College of the Pacific. The second disc concentrates on music from Brubeck’s Concord and Telarc albums of the ’70s, ’80s and later.
Brubeck joined Columbia Records in the mid-1950s. It became the label on which he had his biggest hits, beginning in the days when jazz still enjoyed widespread popularity. In his Columbia career the centerpiece, as far as popular success went, was “Take Five,” Brubeck Legacy Legend.jpgthe first jazz single to sell more than a million copies, in defiance of the inroads rock and roll was making into popular taste. Columbia/Legacy’s Dave Brubeck: Legacy Of A Legend is another two-CD compilation. It fills in the decades between Fantasy and Concord and incorporates tracks from 15 albums, and collaboration with Carmen McRae, Louis Armstrong, Jimmy Rushing and Leonard Bernstein. “Take Five,” of course, is part of the package, and so is a previously unissued concert version of “Three to Get Ready,” with the classic quartet full of good humor nearly to the point of giddiness. Brubeck’s son Darius contributes liner notes of substance.
As if that weren’t enough, Sony Masterworks has also reissued two packages containing 10 of Brubeck’s most successful or important Columbia albums in their entirety. The firstBrubeck Original.jpg volume of Dave Brubeck: Original Album Classics has Brubeck Plays Brubeck, Brandenburg Gate Revisited, Gone with the Wind, Jazz Goes to College and Jazz Impressions of New York.
Brubeck Orginal Time.jpgThe second 5-volume set has the “time” series, Time Out, Countdown: Time in Outer Space, Time Further Out, Time Changes and Time In. And they’re going at fire-sale prices. Columbia has never been shy about reissuing, re-reissuing and re-re-reissuing music, but this landslide of Brubeck albums, some long unavailable, is unprecedented. And welcome.

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  1. Bernard Victor says

    watched this program yesterday on BBC Channel 4. Excellent program, made me want to go and play all my Brubeck tracks.
    Only criticism is that all the music was played in excerpts, only one complete piece being Brubeck playing the lovely piece he composed when he first met his wife.

  2. Dave Cooper says

    Thanks much for alerting me, and many others, to the TCM documentary tomorrow on Dave Brubeck. I plan to watch.
    Question: Any idea where one can find a CD including an early Brubeck extended version of “At a Perfume Counter?” I loved it, and had it in LP, but gave all my LP jazz collection several years ago to Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, which has a big popular culture department. I’d be grateful if you where I might find this recording.
    (It is included in the Fantasy CD compilation “Stardust.” Here’s a link.—DR

  3. cliff schmitt says

    (That is a question for the Turner Classic Movies channel.
    [ ].
    There is no indication on the TCM website that they have scheduled a rerun.—DR)

  4. Charlton Price says

    Alas, the link to the week-long broadcasting of the documentary in Britain comes up saying “not available in your area.”
    C’mon TCM and Netflix — please let us sign up to see this, for education of our children and our children’s children — and ourselves!

  5. Rob D says

    Has Jazz Goes To Junior College ever been issued on CD? I see a British 3fer” on Amazon but I was wondering about an official release by Columbia.
    When I was young and impressionable, a friend lent me “Time Out”, “Miles Smiles” and “Facing You”. Brubeck,Miles and Jarrett. My listening life changed forever.
    (Columbia has not reissued JGTJC as a single CD. It is available on iTunes as a download —DR)