Query: The Jazz Goes To Junior College Car

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.

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  1. says

    Thanks for putting up “my” blues. I have the LP (of course!) which is one of my favorite Brubeck-albums. They’re swinging so loosely here, as if anything could happen. And there happens a lot! — So, Miles’ verdict that Paul couldn’t swing is clearly disproved with this one solo: Yeah, brother Paul, you *got* rhythm!

    Dave sounds quite Basie-ish here, doesn’t he? — How to play the blues? Just lean back, and listen to these masters, they will tell you how.

  2. says

    I played a concert last night with Marvin Stamm, Roger Post and Mike Holober in the Brubeck Room of the Wilton CT public library. It’s a beautiful little auditorium with good acoustics, supported by the Brubeck family. Seats about 150, but we squeezed a few more in. Dave had intended to attend, but had a gig. We played “In Your Own Sweet Way” and some blues and standards, and everyone had a lovely time.

  3. Pat Goodhope says

    Actually this marvelous album was released on CD in Japan in the mid to late 1990’s in the little LP replica sleeve format. And as one would expect from Japanese Sony, spectacular sound.

    I have my copy due to the generosity of my musician friend Larry O’Brien who was touring Japan in 2000 while leading the Glenn Miller orchestra. He was armed with a short shopping list of CD’s to look for on my behalf and this album was at the top of that list.

    In a related note, Sony Legacy is reissuing Dave Digs Disney on CD in a week or two in a most interesting way.

    The CD will include the album in it’s mono form and also it’s stereo form, a delightful surprise to me since I never knew there had been different takes for each release at the time. Plus a few more alternates that were found acceptable.

  4. dave bernard says

    My notes put this album release in 1958. This album is a real throwback to the more freewheeling Quartet sound more typical of what I associate with Fantasy, a few years earlier.

      • says

        I no longer have the Columbia LP in my collection but I recall that the cover photograph was taken by Gary Winogrand, a highly respected photographer. Perhaps George Avakian could recall the circumstances that led to hiring Winogrand to take the photo.

        The Japanse CD reissue of JAZZ GOES TO JUNIOR COLLEGE on SONY SRCS 9523 is in my collection. I hope that this series will be renewed as the Japanese seem to be among the few world wide companies continuing to reissue jazz CDs on a regular basis.