Thanks to Rifftides reader John Bolger for his timely alert to a rare opportunity to see a film tied to an important recording by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in the band’s third year. Timely? Yes, because the Brubeck memorial service in New York was so recent and because the Memorial Day weekend is the 36th anniversary of Paul’s death.
The album was Brubeck Time. The film is Stompin’ For Mili, made by the photographer Gjon Mili at the October 12 and 13, 1954, recording sessions in the storied CBS 30th Street Studio in New York. In a letter to producer George Avakian, used in the album’s liner notes, Brubeck described the making of the recording’s most famous piece:
‘I would like,’ said Gjon, closing his eyes and raising his hand expressively, ‘I would like to see Audrey Hepburn come walking through the woods.’ ‘Gee,’ said Paul wistfully, ‘So would I.’ ‘One,’ I said, noticing the glazed expression about Paul’s eyes ‘two, three, four.’ And we played it.
“Stompin’ For Mili,” is the second take of an improvisation on the chords of George Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady Be Good.” When Mili spoke derisively of the first take, it aroused Brubeck’s cowboy temper and he angrily stomped off the time for take two. In the letter, he described his reaction as an “expression of rage and frustration” that accounted for his directing at Mili a quote from “Thank You for a Lovely Evening.”
The sound track of the film is simultaneous with the recording of “Audrey” and “Stompin’ For Mili” on the album.
The film was posted on Vimeo by the filmmaker Brandon Bloch, whose grandfather, Joe Dodge, was the drummer in the Brubeck quartet from 1951 to 1956. The bassist in the film and on Brubeck Time was Bob Bates.
Here is an addendum to the “Audrey” story from Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond.
Paul never met Audrey Hepburn, though he came close many times that summer of 1954. In the Jean Giraudeaux play Ondine, she was an underwater nymph who fell in love with a knight. She won a Tony award for her work in the title role. Ondine played at the 46th Street Theatre, not far from Basin Street.
“Paul would look at his watch the whole time we were playing at Basin Street,” Brubeck told me. “He knew when she would walk out the stage door and get in her limousine, and he wanted to be standing there. So, when I’d see him watching the time, I knew I’d better take a quick intermission or I was going to have problems with Paul. He’d put his horn down, and out the door he’d go, and he’d run down just to stand and watch her leave.”
“Paul told me that,” I said to Brubeck, “and I asked him, ‘What did you say to her? And he looked surprised and said, ‘Nothing. Are you kidding?’”
Brubeck Time became a big seller and “Audrey” one of Desmond’s most beloved works. The recording associated his name with Hepburn’s, but he died twenty-three years later never having imagined that she knew who he was or that she had heard the piece. After Hepburn died in 1993, the United Nations honored her for her international work with children. Her husband, Andrea Dotti, asked Brubeck and his Quartet to play “Audrey” at the memorial service at UN headquarters in New York.
“I told him,” Brubeck said, “that I had no idea he’d be aware of ‘Audrey.’ He said, ‘My wife listened to it every night before she went to bed, and if she was walking through the garden, she’d listen to it on earphones.’”
“Paul never knew,” Iola Brubeck said. “And he was so in love with Audrey.”
A year or so earlier, Hepburn herself acknowledged what “Audrey” meant to her. The publicist and author Peter Levinson sent the actress a copy of Brubeck Time when the album was first reissued as a compact disc. She responded with a hand-written note.
19 March ’92
Thank you for such a lovely gift—I am thrilled to have the Brubeck C.D. with ‘My Song,’ the ultimate compliment. You letter is so lovely, and I am most grateful for all your kindness.
At the United Nations ceremony, Brubeck’s new alto saxophonist, Bobby Militello, played Desmond’s solo note for note, inflection for inflection. He had memorized it when he was a boy.