Iola Brubeck RIP

Iola Brubeck died today. She had been under treatment for cancer discovered several months ago duringIola-Brubeck1 oral surgery. She was 90 years old. Her children made the announcement through the University of the Pacific, home of the Brubeck Institute. Mrs. Brubeck and her husband Dave were alumni of the university. They met there at a student dance in the early 1940s and decided that night they would marry, which they did a few months later. Mrs. Brubeck died peacefully at home in Wilton, Connecticut, Iola, Dave, Dukewith her family around her. To see the announcement, go here.

The photograph to the left shows Mrs. Brubeck with her husband and Duke Ellington in the 1970s. Long before then, she played an essential role in the early years of her husband’s career as pianist, composer and bandleader. This passage from Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, describes the crucial part she played in 1953 in the development of the Dave Brubeck Quartet:

In her role as manager, booker and publicist in the lean days before Brubeck signed with Joe Glaser’s Associated Booking Corporation, Iola Brubeck acted on an idea that led not only to more work for the Quartet, but also to a major change in the relationship of jazz to its audience. As far back as the 1920s, jazz musicians played on college campuses, but almost always for restricted fraternity and sorority dances. The Brubecks’ pioneering opened the college market as a source of work for jazz artists and helped open society’s ears to wide acceptance of jazz as a mature cultural element.

Mrs. Brubeck wrote more than one hundred colleges and universities, enclosing reviews of the Quartet’s recordings and live appearances. She suggested that The Dave Brubeck Quartet would be ideal for campus concerts and offered a deal that appealed to student associations—a low fee for the band and a split of profits . A few bookings developed. Early on, the band often played in lecture rooms or cafeterias doubling as concert halls, with students wandering in and out during the performances. By the time Joe Glaser’s office took over the Quartet’s management, the system was working. The young agent Larry Bennett, Iola said, “took the idea and ran with it.”

For their March, 1953, appearance at Oberlin College in Ohio, the Quartet found itself in theJazz At Oberlin acoustically blessed chapel of an institution known for the quality of its music department. The audience knew what it was hearing and responded with enthusiastic appreciation. In a canny business move, exchanging broadcast rights for ownership of the master recording, Brubeck allowed the Oberlin campus radio station to tape and later air the concert. When Fantasy issued the performance as a long-playing record, a phenomenon was established: Jazz kept on going to college and Brubeck created an audience that has been loyal to him for decades.

Later, Mrs. Brubeck became her husband’s partner in songwriting, contributing memorable lyrics to many of his compositions, among them those for his musical The Real Ambassadors. She managed all of that professional involvement while raising six children during the years of Dave’s travel as leader of one of the world’s busiest musical organizations.

Through my early coverage of Brubeck and Desmond and, ultimately our friendship, I came to know Iola and the Brubeck family. The friendship continued over the years. When it came time for me to write the Desmond book, she and Dave were primary sources. We spent hours in interviews. They agreed toDR with Iola provide the biography’s foreword. Following Dave’s death in December of 2012, Iola and I stayed in touch, even toward the end as her own health problems became complicated. We exchanged messages until recently. Hers were unfailingly cheerful and upbeat, including the last one about deciding to discontinue therapy. We were together for a few moments at Dave’s memorial service last May. She had just spoken movingly about her husband and his music in a way that made me think of Paul Desmond’s description of her as “the incomparable, regal Iola.”

“For All We Know” was one of her favorite songs.


Dave, Iola at piano

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  1. says

    As one who followed Dave and Iola at then College of the Pacific as a student, and later on the faculty of the Conservatory at University of the Pacific, as Director of Jazz Studies, even before the Brubeck Institute was started, I mourn their passing, not only as a fan, but as someone who was mentored by them and shared their love of the music and of jazz education. When I first met Dave, he was told that I was playing with Stan Kenton and just from that, we became fast friends. He and Stan had a mutual admiration for each other. Dave and Iola were a truly elegant couple. The world is a much better place, for their having been here.

  2. mel says

    This is really sad news. Iola was a lovely lady; we spent some time with her and Dave when they came to visit Darius and Cathy in Durban in 1985, I think it was. A nicer couple one could not wish to meet.

    We were aware of her illness, but thought she might have been getting better recently.

    Our sincerest condolences to Darius and the rest of the family.

  3. John Bolger says

    Thank you Doug for a wonderful tribute to Iola.

    The website I developed on Dave would never have happened were it not for the wonderful enthusiasm and support of Iola over a span of almost two years.

    I got an email from her shortly after the launch of the site last December advising that she liked the page I had written on her, “Iola’s Role”, but in typical fashion she wrote that she couldn’t understand why she deserved special mention. It’s as almost as she was embarrassed to have some limelight shining on her rather than Dave.

    She fought her cancer battle with incredible bravery and courage; like you, the last email I received from her some weeks back, advising of her decision not to continue therapy, was remarkably upbeat and courageous.

    Historians have and will in the future document that the success of Dave Brubeck was in no small part attributed to the role that Iola played throughout his career. For that, fans of the music and life of Dave Brubeck will always be grateful.

    I wrote in the website article that Iola was and always will be Dave’s biggest fan. Last night I received an email from Russell Gloyd, Dave’s long-time manager, that I was not in fact totally correct. Dave, he added was and will always be Iola’s greatest fan.

    Iola was truly remarkable person and a wonderful human being, May she rest in peace.

    Iola’s Role's-Role-

  4. Светлана says

    Sad news but, alas! an inevitable one. No one who had once come into this world could stay in it.
    This wonderful lady deserves all the respect and sympathy even of those who didn’t know her personally but was in this or that way aware of her exceptional role in the life and career of her life-partner of 70(!) years, renowned Dave Brubeck.

    My sincere condolences to Chris, Dan (I heard them live in Moscow) and other members of the worthy family.

  5. Baudilio Sanchez (db) says

    I loved Dave Brubeck’s music. I met him personally in Sacramento at a Trad Jazz Festival. Spoke for a couple of minutes, made him laugh. Very nice guy, with not a trace of arrogance or ego. My brother introduced me to his music, so in 1976, on his birthday I gave him my entire collection of Brubeck recordings. He was just astonished. I spent the next few years gathering every single album again. I did. Iola ? Few men become great, without a great lady who supports them. RIP

  6. Peter Bergmann says

    Very sad.
    We were in correspondence in the early 70’s and after Paul Desmond’s death and had a brief encounter in Germany in the early 90’s. She truly was ‘une grande dame’.

    • Doug Ramsey says

      Mr. Reilly is the author of the recently published The Harmony Of Dave Brubeck (Hal Leonard).

  7. Duane says

    When I attended the Brubeck Festival at UOP in 2007, there there was an exhibit in the lobby of the campus library of items from the Brubeck Institute’s collection related to Iola. They had an essay she wrote in high school, her College of the Pacific student body card for 1940-41, a handwritten manuscript for “Strange Meadowlark”, sheet music for “The Sermon on the Mount”, photos of a young (and very fetching, I must say) Iola, of the family, of Dave with Louis Armstrong, of the “Cannery Row” production from the previous year at Monterey. One interesting item was her datebook from 1962 (I’m pretty sure it was). For one week in June, she had notations for Dave to be on the “Ed Sullivan Show” on Sunday night, three nights in Seattle later in the week, then at the Hollywood Bowl for NBC on Saturday, while also keeping track of Cathy’s ballet lessons, some child’s polio vaccine appointment, and “Darius leaves for Aspen”. Where would Dave — or the whole family — ever have been without her?

  8. Terence Smith says

    The Brubeck story is truly a love story. So many feel so much gratitude
    for the good works of that love. Iola and Dave are an inspiration forever.

    RIP Iola Brubeck

  9. dick vartanian says

    I knew Dave for a very long time but never had the opportunity to meet Iola. I am sorry to have missed out on that.

    “For All We Know” has been in my favorites bag since PD taught it to me.

  10. Tommie Pardue says

    There are not enough superlatives in the English language to adequately describe Iola Brubeck. A dear friend, strong, brave, brilliant and courageouss……………. always upbeat and positive…. a joy and delight to be with. I am so very thankful to have been Dave and Iola’s friend and a friend of the Brubeck family.

  11. Frank Roellinger says

    It’s really impossible for me to put into words adequately what Dave Brubeck’s music has meant to me, but here’s an approximation. My interest began around age 15 and steadily grew. I read of the 1954 Time Magazine article and was fortunate in being able to find that at our town library. The article mentioned Iola, and that probably was my first lesson in learning just how important a woman could be to a man. I don’t think that I ever listened to Dave’s music again without thinking of Iola. Over the years as I learned more of her contributions to Dave’s success, they all seemed fitting and I was never surprised.

    Dave’s music could and did express sadness and even a controlled anger at times, but it was mostly upbeat and always made me feel better after listening to it. For a time in my life, that was extremely important. I still have all of those Fantasy and Columbia LPs, and of course still listen to them. They still have a profound effect on me.

    In my view, Dave and Iola are the premier American couple of both the 20th and 21st centuries. Thank you, Dave, for being true to your art, and thank you, Iola, for being exactly what Dave needed and contributing so much. Many, many lives have been enriched by your work.

  12. Hal Strack says

    Having been a near lifelong friend of Paul, I inevitably was privileged and blessed to know Dave and Iola. Together, along with Paul, they made major, meaningful contributions to American music, which might not have happened as well in the absence of one of them. Iola is the one who originally convinced Dave that he should unite with Paul, She participated in all of Dave’s many initiatives and enterprises, while at the same time nurturing a most talented family. Iola was a most impressive lady, highly intelligent, quietly regal, poised, collected and with great dignity thoroughly participative and contributory. My late wife and I most recently enjoyed a three day weekend with them, with rooms in close proximity on the lake at the Radisson Hotel, in Sacramento, where the Quartet was performing enroute to the Monterey Jazz Festival. We wined, dined, and spent hours talking about shared interests, in as memorable a time as could be had. I will always retain deep affection for and appreciation of those two peerless, inseparable people. The world is a better place for their having been here. They will be greatly missed, but well remembered. They have more than earned the right to RIP, always in our memory.