Stompin’ For Mili

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.

Brubeck_TimeThe 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 recordingDes head associated his name with Audrey HepburnHepburn’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

Dear Peter,
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.

Warmest Wishes,
Audrey Hepburn

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.

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  1. Светлана says

    An amazing thing and incredible performance! Wonderful post!

    It is the very first piece by Paul Desmond (and DBQ) that I ‘ve come across on the YouTube and since then I feel constant gratiude, joy, tenderness and sweet tears when listening to the immortal Love Song dedicated by the inimitable musician to the adorable creature. Audrey and Paul, I wish you meet somewhere there and exchange impressions. R.I.P.

  2. Terence Smith says

    Thank you so much, Doug Ramsey, Brandon Bloch, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Bob Bates and Joe Dodge!
    And John Bolger!

    Like umpteen other people, I have always wanted to experience the Gjon Mili film, often longingly as I read the LP notes.

    In fact, thanks to Gjon Mili for angering Dave Brubeck so productively. Given the quality of Gjon’s Lester Young short film, it’s entirely possible that Mili consciously
    chose to needle Dave, maybe thinking it would overcome the artificiality of the on-film situation. In any case it’s a great film of incredible musical value.

    The Audrey Hepburn story/stories are very beautiful.

    If Rifftides had never produced another article, this one would immortalize the publication. Beautiful.

  3. Tony Burrell, II says

    Interesting that as long as I have been a Brubeck fan, for about 55 some odd years now, I do not remember hearing this album. Who else but Brubeck and Desmond could make the blues-form song “Audrey” sound so attractive? Was this the first time that they closed a tune like this with the “Balcony Rock” theme?

    Also interesting to note that Bob Bates appears to be playing a 5 string bass @ 1:32 in the film clip (the bridge) and 8:02 (the upper tuning keys – 2 on one side and 3 on the other?) unless the picture quality is playing tricks with my eyes.

    Thanks for posting this, Doug, and all of the background info that went along with it. Very informative.

  4. Frank Roellinger says

    What a find, Doug! I recall reading about this film over 50 years ago on the notes to “Brubeck Time” but assumed that I would never, ever be able to see it. Thanks again so much for this blog and all the great material that you are able to post here!

  5. Iola Brubeck says

    As a matter of fact, I learned not long ago that the great still-photographer, Bob Willoughby, arranged for Paul to meet Audrey on the set of “My Fair Lady”. George Cukor ran a very tight ship and it took a lot of persuasion on Bob’s part to finally get permmission to bring Paul on to the set. They met at the commissary and walked together over to the large studio where the filming was taking place. Paul got as far as the door, then refused to enter. He was afraid he would be disappointed. He preferred to keep his private vision of the perfect woman.

  6. Dan Shelton says

    The film is delightful, as are the stories that go along with it here. Thanks so much for sharing it with us, and for keeping this music alive.

  7. Peter Bergmann says

    A marvellous and precious film-document with Dave’s delicate intro and Paul’s imcomparable portrait of “Audrey”. Thank you, Doug.

    In a letter from Southern-France where he was living in the years before his death, Bob Willoughby actually told me about the “My Fair Lady” incident when Paul was shying away from meeting Audrey Hepburn. Probably dreams reflected in music like that should better never come true ?

  8. Tarik Townsend says

    Thanks Doug and Mr. Bloch for making this available! I always wished I could see this, and here it is. You, know, I always wondered why Joe Dodge used both a drum stick and a wire brush, and if Paul Desmond’s idea of a quiet time-keeping drummer had anything to do with it. Whatever the reason, Joe Dodge’s accents were always tasty and spurred Brubeck and Desmond to some of their best soloing (not to slight Joe Morello, a fantastic drummer himself). Thanks again!

  9. says

    Ladies & gentlemen —

    Sorry, I don’t wanna bother you with this question. I have to ask it anyway: Why did no one shoot a film like this about Charlie Parker, the fellow who “invented” this kind of playing jazz, alongside Lester Young?

    OK, we have the dubbed thing with “Ballad” & “Celebrity”, we have the “Hot House” take from TV, there is Jammin’ The Blues (which would come very close to my idea of a film about Charlie Parker) but what we don’t have is an artistic attempt to shoot Bird in action, probably together with Dizzy, Bud, and Max.

    Well, it could have been a subconscious “racist” feeling which may have kept filmmakers away from even planning such a film, a documentary about Bird; but I think it’s necessary to point it out here: There would be no Paul Desmond without Lester Young & Charlie Parker.

    • Jim Brown says

      Mili did, indeed, produce a film in 1950 with Bird, Hawkins, Ella, Pres, Hank Jones, Ray Brown, and Buddy Rich. There was a technical problem (the studio was noisy), so the sound was re-recorded, lip-synced to the video, so the result is not as satisfying as Jammin’ The Blues.

      It is available on the DVD Norman Granz Presents Improvisation, which also includes the 1944 classic “Jammin’ The Blues” with Pres, and late ’70s performances produced by Granz of Duke, Basie, Ella, Joe Pass, Oscar Peterson, Clark Terry, Dizzy, and Jaws at Montreux.

  10. Diana Wilko says

    Thank you so much for posting this Doug! What a gem! I also read about the film in the liner notes of “Brubeck Time” so many years ago, and always wondered what happened to the film.

    In 1967 Paul showed me the niftiest animated flip book I ever saw. It was of Dave playing piano, and if my memory serves me correctly, I believe Paul said the photos were taken by Gjon Mili.

  11. mel says

    Firstly, thank you, John Bolger, for the opportunity to see this wonderful video.

    Secondly, I’ve always loved that story about Paul’s infatuation with Audre Hepburn in your book, Doug – I’m a great fan of both Paul and Audrey.

    Finally, to Iola – how nice to see you here. Thank you for your input on the Paul/Audrey story. Best wishes from Mel and June, ex-Durban.

  12. mel says

    I’ve just found that the last time I commented on the subject of that “Balcony Rock” coda, I erred. I feel that I should correct it now:

    Not only “Balcony Rock” and “Audrey,” but also “Back Bay Blues” from Brubeck At Storyville: 1954 – Columbia USA and Philips UK. This one always seems to get overlooked.

  13. James Cimarusti says

    Great little film! I love how Paul and Dave worked in Bizet’s “Farandole” from “L’Arlesienne” at the end of “Stompin’ for Mili”. As a bonus for all “Audrey” lovers, there is another piece called “Makin’ Time” which was originally realeased on the Columbia Jazz sampler “I Like Jazz ” (JZ 1) as a previously unreleased track-one of several other previously unreleased tracks on the album. According to the liner notes of that album, “Makin’ Time” was recorded right after “Audrey” and is in the same groove. (I wish it had been filmed also for the above movie.) The original “I Like Jazz” release is hard to find but well worth looking for, especilly for the unreleased (at that time) tracks. “Makin Time” is currently available on CD as a bonus track on the 2-CD set “Dave Brubeck-Second Set-Three Classic Albums Plus” on the AVID import label out of England.

  14. André Growald says

    Hi Doug, John Bolger, Brandon Bloch, Iola and all the other passengers on board! I wish to express my indebtedness for being invited to take a place in this magnificent time machine, so many years in the vault ! Beautiful !