Rifftides Reader Andrew Dowd writes:
You may recall me as the fellow who hosts a jazz show on KMHD in Portland OR, on Saturday nights. A few weeks ago I got out an old dusty copy of The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Jazz Goes to Junior College, (Columbia CL1034, 1957), that I had in my collection and played a track from it on my show. I was glancing at the cover illustration, as I often do, and noticed that there is a photo of an old late-40’s black convertible with three children sitting in the front seat. I recall reading in either your bio of Paul Desmond (or in Fred M. Hall’s The Dave Brubeck Story) that this car belonged to Dave Brubeck and his wife and when it got old they abandoned it in the Brubeck back yard and that it became a “playhouse” of sorts for Dave’s sons. Could the photo on the cover of Jazz Goes to Junior College be this same car and Dave’s sons?
From the back and at that distance, it is impossible to say whose sons the boys are. It is not the same car. According to a friend who knows cars, the one on the cover is a 1950 Mercury convertible. The Brubeck road warrior vehicle was a 1949 Kaiser Vagabond sedan. Its picture and the story of those impecunious early days of few gigs and long drives is in Chapter 24 of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond (the link is another shameless attempt to sell books). When funds for accommodations lagged behind the band’s compensation, bassist Bull Ruther and Desmond occasionally spent the night in the Kaiser. They are seen here with it in 1952 in Newark, New Jersey, as Ruther watches Paul on a milk break.
Jazz Goes to Junior College is an underrated album by the quartet, surprisingly hard to find and never reissued as a single CD. It has shown up recently as part of a CD that contains three of the band’s late-fifties Columbia LPs. Below is one track from the album. The visual is not the album cover but a publicity shot distorted and tinted a bilious green, and it shows Ruther and drummer Herb Barman rather than Norman Bates and Joe Morello. Close your eyes and ignore it; the music is what matters. Desmond’s and Brubeck’s solos put a significant dent in the theory that white guys can’t play the blues. They end with an example of the spontaneous counterpoint that in the 1950s was an important aspect of their partnership.