Dave Brubeck Gives Four-Hour Concert!

By Martin Z. Kasdan, Jr.

Well, you can put that headline next to the one about Hillary Clinton giving birth to Elvis' alien love child, if you want. But truth be told, Dave Brubeck's performances for U of L's jazz Week, at a Sunday matinee at U of L's School of Music and at a performance the following night at the Brown Theater, were like one long concert with an extended (26-hour) intermission. To me, at least, there was a feeling that the first set Sunday was something of an introduction, while the second Sunday set and the first Monday set were on a higher plane. The band came back to Earth with the second and final set of Monday night. During the opening set Sunday, Brubeck rarely spoke to the audience, other than to introduce his band. The second set Sunday and the first set Monday displayed a far more gregarious Brubeck, telling tales of life on the road, giving some local color by way of family history and generally carrying on like your genial uncle. During his final set Monday, he mostly reverted to speaking through his music.

The 82-years-young Brubeck was not content to rest on his laurels. Throughout some four hours of music spread out over these two performances, only one song was repeated, the immortal "Take Five." I recall seeing an interview with Brubeck in which he was asked if he ever got tired of playing this composition. His response was to the effect that every time he plays it, he and his band make it different and thus do not lose their interest in playing "Brubeck's greatest hit." This was not just rhetoric - Brubeck's two Louisville performances were totally different from one another. The Sunday performance was a bit more straightforward than the Monday one, with saxophonist Bobby Militello evoking the sound of the song's composer, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. On Monday night, Brubeck began the song with a pleasantly rambling solo introduction which ultimately metamorphosed into the catchy melody. However, to keep both band and audience on their toes, Brubeck played in a much slower tempo than the original recording. This gave way to a stunning section with Militello and drummer Randy Jones sounding for all the world like John Coltrane duetting with Rashied Ali. A slow section followed, almost out of necessity, to allow everyone to come back down.

Some highlights of the Sunday show, besides "Take Five," included "These Foolish Things" which featured a lovely bowed bass solo by Michael Moore and "Crescent City Stomp," based on the highly syncopated second-line rhythms of the New Orleans Mardi Gras anthem "Iko Iko." Monday night's opening song was one which has long been in the Brubeck repertoire, W.C. Handy's "Saint Louis Blues." Brubeck told the audience that he had found the original sheet music for this song, which began with a tango introduction before moving into the better known classic blues format. The Disney classic which has long since become a jazz standard, "Some Day My Prince Will Come," was taken at a faster pace than usual.

All in all, Brubeck and his well-seasoned crew of musical colleagues impressed both serious jazz lovers as well as neophytes with the obvious joyousness of their playing together. Rumor has it that Brubeck may return, a rumor which I can only hope becomes reality.