Wilton’s Dave Brubeck is remembered for centennial
WILTON — When Darius Brubeck marks his father Dave Brubeck’s centennial with a talk at Wilton Library on Thursday, Jan. 16, he will start right at the beginning — 1920.
In deciding to group his talk by presidential terms, Brubeck said in an interview last week, the presidential election of 1920 seemed like a natural time to start.
“It’s the first year women could vote in a national election in America. In a way that’s what stimulated me to adopt this kind of the timeline. It plays out in an interesting way,” he said, adding he will go up to Barack Obama’s election.
“That was the triumph of everything they had believed in,” he said of not only of his father but also his mother Iola. “They were very actively supporting the civil rights struggle and evolution of society to integration and decency.”
Brubeck’s talk kicks off the 13th season of Wilton Library and the Wilton Historical Society’s collaborative Scholarly Series. The theme this year is “Jazzed Up — The History of Jazz in America.”
An informal reception will follow the talk, which is free, although donations are appreciated. Registration is required by calling 203-762-6334 or visiting www.wiltonlibrary.org and clicking on Events.
Brubeck’s talk, “Dave Brubeck: Twentieth Century American,” which takes place from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the library’s Brubeck Room, will coincide with two concerts — Brubecks Play Brubeck — featuring Darius and his brothers Chris and Dan Brubeck on Saturday, Jan. 11. Both are sold out.
While social and cultural events of the day were important, Brubeck stressed his father was not a spokesman for specific organizations or parties.
An artist, he said, does not create in isolation. “It’s a much more subtle thing that takes place,” he said.
While Dave Brubeck did write a piece — “Truth is Fallen” — in response to the Kent State University shootings of 1970, and his sacred “Gates of Justice,” released in 2001 in an effort to bring African-American and Jewish communities together, other pieces were based on biblical or inspirational texts that are not easily identifiable with specific events.
“But their moral message is about the kind of society we want — nonviolent, tolerant, forgiving,” Brubeck said. “That’s what he was doing as a composer in parallel as a jazz musician, which means going out and playing concerts.”
He said the works were not directly political, but unified communities of jazz followers of different generations.
Dave Brubeck spent his teen years with his family on a ranch in California, isolated from city life and urban developments. But he had a radio, his son said, and he listened to the likes of Fats Waller, Duke Ellington and Art Tatum.
“He was very influenced by the jazz masters of the early 30s and 40s,” Brubeck said, “long before he had any notion he might do the same thing for a living.”
After a stint in the Army during World War II, when he led a racially integrated jazz band, Dave Brubeck eventually embarked on a career in jazz in 1947. By 1954 his portrait appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
Cold War era
“The Cold War coincides with and is an important factor in a great age of development in jazz,” Darius Brubeck said. “This was a very important period for the Dave Brubeck Quartet, when he really became a global figure as opposed to a national figure.”
In 1958 the U.S. State Department sent the quartet on a goodwill tour, the first time a national jazz group had been sent behind the Iron Curtain. Darius accompanied his father, just 10 at the time.
“One of the compensations of getting older is big anniversaries come around,” he said, noting 2018 when his own group, the Darius Brubeck Quartet toured Poland was the 60th anniversary of that tour. That year was also the 100th anniversary of Polish independence following the Treaty of Versailles at the end of World War I.
“In 1958 Poland was still very much a destroyed country,” Brubeck said of the aftermath of World War II, but by 2018 “it had been marvelously rebuilt.”
He learned that his father, the 1958 tour and his father’s music were still very much in the minds of Polish jazz fans. As part of the 2018 tour Darius visited the European Solidarity Centre in Szczecin, very near to Gdansk, which commemorates the Solidarity movement.
“It’s built underground on a square where Polish demonstrators were shot down by Soviet and Polish police in 1970,” Brubeck said. “It reminds you that the freedom movement was underground.
“The first thing you see is a Dave Brubeck concert program in Polish and a short wave radio” by which people could listen to American jazz transmitted by the Voice of America.
“The jazz tour really resonated,” he continued. “When we played there were often people who had seen the 1958 tour and were bringing grandchildren. It was kind of a lap of honor for people who helped make that transition who were not literally freedom fighters but identified with the freedom struggle, who felt very strongly that jazz was a unifying force bringing together artists, journalists students — people who envision a new nation.
“It was hugely emotional,” he said and the quartet recorded their Live in Poland album in Poznan on the last night of the tour.
Asked about future sessions of the Scholarly Series, which will focus on jazz great Louis Armstrong, civil rights, the Harlem renaissance and women in jazz, Brubeck said “there’s a through line. It all has to do with an advancement of values that most musicians and audiences feel are inherent in jazz.”
Brubeck and his wife Cathy, who is also his manager, have lived in England the past 12 years, following 23 years in South Africa. They are in the States for several events commemorating the Dave Brubeck centennial.
He, his brothers and sister are attending the Jazz Education Network’s Annual Conference in New Orleans this week where they will perform, have an exhibition space and host a reception. Darius will be a panelist in a program, “Dave Brubeck the REAL Ambassador,” one of many at the conference dedicated to the jazz legend’s work.
The Brubeck family is also launching the Brubeck Living Legacy, a charitable trust that will further the values important to Dave and Iola Brubeck artistically and socially.