Compatible Quotes: Dave Brubeck

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.

I’m always hoping for the nights that are inspired, where you almost have an out-of-body experience.

Damn it, when I’m bombastic, I have my reasons. I want to be bombastic: take it or leave it

(Photo of Dave Brubeck at the Stockholm Jazz Festival by Pavel Korbut)


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  1. says

    Another Brubeck quote:

    “I’m beginning to understand myself. But it would have been great to be able to understand myself when I was 20 rather than when I was 82.”

    And that “bombastic” thing… where have I read that before?

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Here’s the full paragraph:

      The power and weight of many of Brubeck’s solos have led his critics to charge him with the sin of heavy-handedness, excessive romanticism, bombast. Once in the 1960s when we were discussing jazz criticism, an activity he regards with alternate amusement and frustration, he said, “The word bombast keeps coming up, as if it were some trap I keep falling into. Damn it, when I’m bombastic I have my reasons; I want to be bombastic. Take it or leave it.”

      It’s from my biographical essay in this Brubeck retrospective CD box set.

  2. says

    Like your other readers, I have fond memories of hearing Dave live in my youth — at Green Lake, Seattle, in the summer of 1962. Since then, I have accrued nearly all his albums (40 so far), and I play them often. I had planned a special for his birthday this week, but now I’m committed to playing them all, in order, over the next year, starting with Jazz at the Black Hawk and Storyville in 1952-53. If anyone cares to join me in this trip down memory lane, I stream live from 3:00 to 5:30 pm PST on on Friday and Monday afternoons.

  3. Terence Smith says

    Dave Brubeck’s art is the kind that can reach and uplift any and all of us. He believed that music should and does transcend boundaries and categories, and his art certainly does. In subtle ways it is part of a force that uplifts our whole human culture via universality. I remember that “pop’ star Billy Joel was “compatibly” quoted on the subject of the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Time Out, and specifically “Take Five”:

    “(They) were as important to me as “Sergeant Pepper’s” was to Rock’n Roll aficionados in the 1960s.”

    I heard of Dave’s passing from a poignant e-mail from my daughter when I got home from work December 5: “Very sad to hear about Dave Brubeck. I listened to Strange Meadow Lark on headphones today as I finished my paperwork.” She is not primarily a jazz fan, but all who really listen hear the resonance of Dave Brubeck. I return again and again to his music, which can convey so much I need to talk about it: shared joys.

    In her September 15, 1960 Down Beat article about Desmond, when Marian McPartland mentioned critics of Dave’s piano style, Desmond said this:

    “When he’s at his best, he’s really something to hear. A lot of people don’t know this, because in addition to the fluctuating level of performance that most jazz musicians give, Dave has a real aversion to working out things, and a tendency to take the things he can do for granted, and spend most of his time trying to do other things. This is okay for people who have heard him play at his best, but is sometimes mystifying for those who haven’t. However, once in a while somebody who had no use for Dave previously comes in and catches a really good set and leaves looking kind of dazed.”

    • says

      That’s what Dave has said too, that he is always taking chances when he improvises (like all master improvisors, if conventional jazz musicians, or the ones I would call “free music stylists”); and so, he never could rely on a certain routine, on ready-made licks.

      He needed this kind of challenge because everything else, any predictability, would have become boring and lifeless. — If a personal word is allowed: We musicians are no machines, ok? If you wanna listen to the same thing over, and over again, you better should avoid live-music.

  4. Terence Smith says

    I think that Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond succeeded, not because they were commercial but despite being firmly noncommercial, and resolutely *themselves*. In his book “West Coast Jazz” Ted Giaoa notes:

    “Brubeck’s rise to fame defied all the rules. It happened without the benefit of a press agent or a public relations campaign, and on the strength of music that was neither designed for mass public consumption nor destined for critical acclaim. It was promoted first by a faltering Dixieland record label, then picked up by a tiny independent company with experience only in applied plastics and no track record in music.”

    Paul Desmond quote: “I was unfashionable long before anyone knew who I was.”

    I once read a Desmond quote in which he described the Quartet’s rise to fame by comparing it to movies about the hicks coming to the city and naively breaking into the big time. It was priceless, and probably ingrained with truth! Would anyone know the remark/Desmond joke?

  5. David says

    One of the most unusual Brubeck albums has to be All The Things We Are. A 21- minute Jimmy Van Heusen medley recorded in ’73 alternates solo piano & trio with Jack Six and Alan Dawson. The other tracks were recorded at a session in ’74. There’s a duet with Lee Konitz on “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” Then Six and Roy Haynes join in a quartet version of “Like Someone In Love.” Another quartet track has Anthony Braxton replacing Konitz on “In Your Own Sweet Way.” Finally all five players tackle “All the Things You Are.” I’ve played this album for a number of people over the years and the reactions were decidedly mixed, although I found it quite fascinating. The most exotic moments actually come in the Van Heusen Medley. Dave takes “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and “It Could Happen to You” in some very unusual directions.

  6. Terence Smith says

    I think that Dave’s liner notes essay on Brubeck Plays Brubeck is very much relevant to Doug Ramsey’s choice of “Compatible Quotes” from Dave Brubeck, and to the subject of Dave’s “aversion to working-things-out” affectionately mentioned by Paul Desmond. If it’s okay or appropriate to quote something of this length, this is Dave Brubeck writing/speaking in 1956 in those liner notes:

    In my mind there are three basic categories or levels of creativity in jazz.

    (1) That which I consider most desirable is the subconscious, almost effortless flow of new material from the creator. The performer at this level has neither the desire nor need for a preconceived pattern because he knows that the music comes from a source of infinite imagination and limitless variety.

    (2) At a lower level is an imaginative performance interpreted with “quotes” (either personal or derivative) which intrude like the human ego into the flow of creative ideas.

    (3) At a still lower level is the performance based on a backlog repertoire, in which runs and patterns, cadences and progressions are worked out to meet each situation. The artist strives for perfection on his instrument. The real creativity of this type of jazz artist is displayed at the moment he chooses the arpeggio, or chord pattern which he will practice and eventuallly use.

    With the same artist performing in each category mentioned, a “third level” performance, in most cases , will be the most polished, display the most technical skill, and will be the one with the most swing- but it will lack the vital involvement with the moment of creation. In an inspired moment at the “first level,” I believe that a soloist can outswing, out-create, and out-perform any of the other categories, but this is an unusual situation which an audience is rarely privileged to experience.

    The complaints about Dave’s style may be complaints about his deep aesthetic decision so fundamental he cannot help himself, and by which Dave has given “almost out of the body experiences” to so many of us as he risks alienating the critics (small loss!).

  7. Terence Smith says

    I was on the internet looking for a certain Brubeck quote which I can’t quite remember accurately. I didn’t find it, but accidentally saw two nice quotes attributed to Dave, pertinent to this strand:

    (1) ” What’s more important, to play the way you want to play or play the way they want you to play?”

    (2) ” What I try to do is get beyond thinking about it at all, and just be playing, and not being analytical.”

    But I think Dave got there by being very analytical in the first place, in his own sweet way of analyzing. There’s a great discussion going on in Rifftides ( “Brubeck: Things Ain’t What They Used to Be”) about tonality, key centers, bitonality, polytonality, the respective intentions and effects on the listener, and so on. Several commenters have noted that Dave uses bitonalities etc. but in a different way than others who are more literally theoretical. I was looking for a Brubeck quote in which he said in so many words that he was always attracted to tonality and identifiable keys, because it is so beautiful to CHANGE keys, as in the structures of “tunes”. The quote was something to the effect of:

    “If you don’t start from someplace particular, how can you ever go anywhere?”

    Does anyone know the exact quote? And come to think of it, was it Bill Evans who said it?