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     for the Future
• Sears Manufacturing
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NOTE: Public television a few years ago carried a fascinating documentary of how the Beatles had both reflected and shaped popular culture. This story about the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1979, originally assigned as a simple concert review, grew into something like that Beatles documentary. This is one of the longest pieces among the samples, certainly too long by today’s standards. But each story has its own pace in the telling. If you’re a jazz fan or an older Baby Boomer or both, you may like this one. As of this posting 30 years later, Brubeck—perhaps the nicest celebrity I ever interviewed—is still alive and winning over crowds despite all the changes.     

Brubeck Onstage

Jazz Great for 40 Years Plays Through the Changes for Fans in Quad-Cities


By Randy Heuston
Quad-City Times
Back Home Times change. The phrase has always meant something special and very literal to Dave Brubeck fans, a lot of whom came to hear him again earlier this week in Rock Island.

Brubeck is the innovator who wrested jazz from its traditional 4/4 and 2/4 time signatures in the 1950s and early 1960s. It wasn’t enough for him to give his drummer fits with 9/8 and 5/4 and Brubeck-only-knows-what-else time. He had members of the quartet in rhythmic counterpoint—different times at the same time.

Many in the crowd, which nearly packed out the Circa ‘211 dinner theater, remembered when one of those tricky numbers, “take Five,” became the first jazz single to sell a million copies.

They were in college then or had been just a few years before. The Dave Brubeck Quartet was the cool jazz they listened to. ….they liked the smooth sounds of Brubeck and his alto saxophonist, the late, great Paul Desmond.

Those fans had heard the Brubeck group at college concerts, like the one at Augustana way back in 1962. Some of them would take their dates to the fraternity and sorority houses and put Brubeck records on the hi-fi between discs of Johnny Mathis and the Kingston Trio.

But times change. The Dave Brubeck Quartet was in its heyday before the full horrors of the Vietnam War and the riots in the streets, before Watergate and the energy crisis, before acid rock and disco.

Those at Circa ’21 remembered Brubeck and perhaps what their lives were like back then. After all, they still played their scratchy Brubeck LPs….

A few hummed “Someday My Prince Will Come,” “Take Five,” “Unsquare Dance” or “Blue Rondo Ala Turk.” Some tried to drum in 5/4 time lightly on the tables. They stared at the empty stage with its curiously nostalgic play set with signs saying “Mindy’s” and “Jesus Saves” for a background and wondered what the heck to expect.

Brubeck had temporarily disbanded the quartet in 1967. They knew Desmond was gone. They had heard that Brubeck, now nearly 60, had stayed active, traveling and performing with his sons. But somewhere they had lost track of what was going on in the world of jazz.

The new quartet came onstage. The musicians the fans remembered wore suits and ties. Brubeck, Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello all dressed as impeccably as they played.

Now, here were three kids, casually dressed, looking like what they are, products of the sixties.

The drummer was Randy Jones. The program notes said he came from England, the same place that sent America all the savage rock ’n’ rollers.

In Desmond’s place was somebody named Jerry Bergonzi—in jeans and tennis shoes. The name wasn’t even right. It wasn’t close to diamond, which was Desmond’s every phrase. The name Bergonzi sounded like some discarded pasta. He didn’t have Desmond’s delicate alto either. He held a tenor. A tenor can be played like a club….

Instead [of the upright bass loved so long in jazz], young Brubeck had a hand-held electric bass, just one of those low-pitched electric guitars that all the rock bands use. It’s a device of greater facility and limitless power and, at least the old fans would say, limited soul.

Dave Brubeck himself, his gray hair long and luxuriant, wore a suit with a red satin shirt but no tie. He would remove his coat after the first number.

Without a word, they launched into an upbeat version of St. Louis Blues. There was no question the group could swing. But it was less laid back, more driving swing that the fans remembered. The lush block chords and glorious dischords still rolled from the incredible Brubeck hands.

The test came with Bergonzi’s first solo. If the fans expected another Desmond, their hearts broke.

Brubeck always described Desmond as “the greatest lyric saxophonist.” When Desmond played, the notes flowed across Brubeck’s full-keyboard backup like a filigree on a cathedral door.

When Bergonzi played, it was unrefined ore. The youngster was hesitant, the melodic line harder, more discordant. He seemed to be in awe of playing with Brubeck. He knew he shouldn’t be there, standing where Desmond ought to be. His solo trailed off uncertainly.

The fans applause was polite.

Well, at least the elder Brubeck didn’t let them down. After 40 years, he still had it all—the foot-stomping base line saluting Erroll Garner, the lightning right hand racing Oscar Peterson and the huge chords, both classical and exotic, that are Brubeck’s own….

He was enjoying his work. Both his feet rocked together on the beat. He experimented and surprised himself and shook his head and laughed, delighted at what he heard.

As the concert continued, the group whipped through one up-tempo tune after another. The fans didn’t recognize most of them. Brubeck would not go back to the past they knew.

They couldn’t remember that Joe Morello ever dropped a beat, as this kid drummer did occasionally. But it was good jazz. The fans knew they were getting their money’s worth.


Backstage, Brubeck was sitting alone, apparently exhausted, in the darkness of a shabby, tiny dressing room where a reporter and a photographer found him….

He confronted the inevitable question, what does a jazzman think about disco?

“It’s good for dancing”

Is that it?

“Well, I’m interested to see where it will go from here. I can’t imagine musicians playing that same beat over and over again. Music has to grow. It can’t be the same thing year after year.”

But what about the young jazz musicians coming along? Will there be another Paul Desmond? Or do they all play so… so hard? He paused. “Well, I think there are musicians like Paul. I think Jerry can play that way. In fact, he reminds me of Paul.”

Was he kidding? Would Dick Butkus remind him or Rudolf Nureyev? What about the ballads and the lyricism?

Brubeck explained that before intermission they were trying out some new numbers, which happened to be mostly upbeat. Rock Island was only the second stop in an 85-concert tour, and the group hadn’t worked together that much.

But it’s great to play with the younger musicians, he said, as the interview ended.

The new Brubeck quartet came out for the second act, still driving hard. And the crowd warmed….

As the concert raced toward its end, even Bergonzi won their hearts. Maybe he wasn’t Desmond, but he was creative. As he gained confidence, his solos gained complexity. They soared with the raw power of a 747, dove and strafed like a fighter. Man, the fans thought, this guy’s exciting. Soon they cheered his every solo. Desmond who?

Suddenly, it was over. The quartet rose, bowed and walked off the stage. The crowd clapped and whistled and shouted for an encore. It was not just the thing to do. There was still something missing. The fans weren’t quite fulfilled.

So, the quartet returned. And they played what the crowd had to have, “Take Five.”

Bergonzi began it light and fragile. It reminded the fans of… Desmond.

Oh, the youngster didn’t sustain the notes quite as well. The phrasing wasn’t the same. How could it ever be? But it was the “Take Five” they knew and loved. It was the early years and a tranquil time and their youth relived.

The crowd went wild.

Then the sax solo. Many in the crowd had heard the record so many times they knew Desmond’s solo by heart. They could skat-chorus it on the way to work.

The young tenor man played, and it wasn’t the same at all.

It was young and raw and smoking. He stood there with his feet planted, virile and angry like some white Wayne Shorter and showed the crowd what he knew about the tenor saxophone.

His solo surged out in a tidal wave of notes that slammed them back into their seats, then sucked them forward again through the years and all the changes. It was so different, but it was also so good. Yes, like Desmond’s, it was great.

The crowd exploded. And by the time they were done cheering the group through a second encore, they had accepted. They had learned what Brubeck always knew.

“Music has to grow. It can’t be the same year after year.”

Yes, the fans must have thought as they headed home, times change.



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