The first real jazz recording I ever listened to was The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carnegie Hall, recorded live on February 21, 1963. I was about fifteen (and had recently switched from accordion to piano at the urging of my music teacher, an outstanding jazz pianist himself) when my father purchased the double LP through the Columbia Record Club to play on his new stereo components. For some reason, it quickly became a ritual for me to put this record on while the family was having bacon-and-egg breakfast after Sunday Mass. The ritual soon became known as Breakfast with Brubeck; my Mother and my sisters still remember, with reluctant fondness, the very live jazz that dominated rather than accompanied our Sunday-morning repast.
That winter night, in the midst of a New York newspaper strike, Brubeck, altoist Paul Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright, and virtuoso drummer Joe Morello gave an electrifying performance. Having not quite migrated from 1960s rock, I was mostly drawn to the driving rhythms of Brubeck’s percussive piano and Morello’s fabulous drumming. It was not until much later that I could appreciate the beauty and genius of Desmond’s playing and the complex and difficult time signatures that the group favoured.
I remember attending a Brubeck concert (I don’t think it was the same group), probably at the old Forum at the Pacific National Exhibition, in the very early seventies. There could not have been more than thirty or forty people in the audience. Brubeck played a couple of numbers, said something to the effect of “Well, this is a complete waste of time,” and left the stage. This was one of many sad moments at that point in the history of jazz, when the genre had become almost entirely eclipsed by rock music. Thank God for the likes of Wynton Marsalis who helped restore jazz to a level of popular appreciation, allowing the careers of greats like Brubeck to be restored.
It was not until the early 2000s that The Dave Brubeck Quartet at Carnegie Hall came out on CD. When it did, I purchased two copies, one for myself and one for my Dad. I gave my Dad his copy at a family gathering and we sat on the sofa in his house and listened to it at full volume, just as we did in the old Breakfast with Brubeck days. It was a sweet moment.
Dave Brubeck died today at the age of 91. Thank you, Dave, for giving my Dad and me so much pleasure over Sunday breakfast, and may you rest in peace.
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