Dave Brubeck - piano
Paul Desmond - alto sax
Eugene Wright - bass
Joe Morello - drums
Following the massive success of Time Out (one of the jazz milestones from 1959, along with Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, Charles Mingus' Ah Um and John Coltrane's Giant Steps) Dave Brubeck was riding high in the critics polls while being hailed as a new international ambassador of jazz whose profile around the world was only surpassed by that of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. Brubeck's appearance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival came at a time when "Take Five," the most requested song from Time Out, still dominated radioplay and sales figures for that landmark album had surpassed the million mark. No wonder, then, that the Brubeck quartet's June 30th appearance was met with such an air of anticipation for these new darlings of jazz.
The Gestalt Four, as emcee Willis Connover jokingly calls them in his introduction (the dictionary definition: an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts) begin their Sunday evening concert with a modernist take on Stephen Foster's "Swanee River" from their 1959 Columbia album Gone with the Wind. Full of clever reharmonization and sly syncopation, and fueled by drummer Joe Morello's fervently swinging momentum on the kit, Foster would hardly recognize this hip rendering of his folksy melody written in 1851 and originally known as "Old Folks At Home." Paul Desmond's alto sax, one of the most distinctive voices in jazz, is typically buttery smooth and bristling with ideas here while pianist-leader Brubeck digs in with earthy authority on some energetic block chording and bristling single note lines on his solo. Brubeck's spirited trading of eights with Morello near the end of this re-imagining of Foster's sentimental anthem is a highlight of the piece.
They next settle into a new number called "The Southern Scene," title track of the group's 1960 album, before heading into Desmond's rhythmically playful "I'm in a Dancing Mood," which shifts nimbly from fugue-like gentility to Latin mambo to uptempo swing. From there the quartet unveils the mellow "Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra: Adagio" from their collaboration with the New York Philharmonic under the direction of Leonard Bernstein (Bernstein Plays Brubeck Plays Bernstein), recorded in January of that year and not released until 1961. Composed by Brubeck's older brother, classical composer Howard Brubeck, the piece is underscored by Morello's supple brushwork and distinguished by Desmond's alto (which one writer once described as "the sound of a dry martini"). Brubeck's touch is delicate and somewhat jaunty on this subtle swinger, showing a bit of an Erroll Garner influence.
Morello's remarkably quick hands, consummate control and penchant for melodic playing on the kit are prominently displayed on the exciting drum feature "Sounds of the Loop," a buoyantly swinging number from 1957's Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A. (and is presumably about that busy slice of downtown Chicago). And they complete their Thursday night set with the challenging 9/8 vehicle "Blue Rondo a la Turk," one of the popular numbers from Time Out.
A legendary, revered figure in jazz, pianist-composer Dave Brubeck has made frequent appearances over the past 55 years at the Newport Jazz Festival. His compositions like "In Your Own Sweet Way," "The Duke" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" have become standards in jazz repertoire and he will be forever associated with the tune "Take Five," composed by his longtime right-hand man and alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond. Born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, California, Brubeck's father was a cattle rancher and his mother, who had dreams of becoming a concert pianist, taught piano to students in her home for extra money. Early on, he took lessons with his mother and later studied music at the College of the Pacific from 1938 to 1942. After graduating, he was drafted into General Patton's Third Army and led a service band overseas. While serving in the Army, he met Paul Desmond in 1944. After four years in the Army, he returned to California and continued his musical education at Mills College, where he studied with the French composer and teacher Darius Milhaud, who sparked his interest in fugues, counterpoint and polytonality. Following his studies under Milhaud, Brubeck helped to establish Fantasy Records out of Berkeley, California. His first recording for the label, in 1949, was with an octet comprised of fellow students from Mills College and is full of complex time signatures and polytonality. He subsequently formed a working trio with drummer-vibraphonist Cal Tjader and bassist Ron Crotty, which gained popularity around the Bay Area.
By 1951, Brubeck was persuaded by altoist Paul Desmond to make the trio a quartet, and a sound was born. Together they took up a long residency at San Francisco's Black Hawk nightclub with drummer Lloyd Davis and bassist Crotty and gained great popularity touring college campuses. Their string of successful recordings - 1953's Jazz at Oberlin and Jazz at the College of the Pacific along with the Brubeck Quartet's 1954 Columbia debut, Jazz Goes to College, led to the pianist-composer being featured on the cover of Time magazine on November 8, 1954, the second jazz musician to be so honored (the first was Louis Armstrong, who appeared on the cover on February 21, 1949). The lineup for the classic Dave Brubeck Quartet was finally cemented when drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright joined in 1955, subsequently appearing on such essential recordings as 1959's ground-breaking, platinum-selling Time Out, 1961's Time Further Out, 1962's Time in Outer Space (dedicated to Apollo astronaut John Glenn) and 1964's Time Change. The final studio album for Columbia by the Brubeck/Desmond/Wright/Morello quartet was 1966's Anything Goes, a collection of Cole Porter songs.
Brubeck composed more extended orchestral and choral works through the '70s while continuing to make small group appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival, sometimes with a group comprised of this three sons Darius on keyboards, Dan on drums, and Chris on electric bass or bass trombone. He kept this Two Generations of Brubeck group together until 1978. He continued to write orchestral works and ballet scores through the '80s and '90s while also making appearances and recordings with smaller jazz groups. In 1994, Brubeck was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame. In 2006, at the 49th Monterey Jazz Festival, Brubeck debuted his commissioned work, Cannery Row Suite, a jazz opera based on John Steinbeck's novel about Monterey's roots as a sardine fishing and packing town. Today, at age 90, Brubeck is still playing vigorously swinging jazz (as evidenced by his recent appearance at the 2009 Newport Jazz Festival). Truly, he is one for the ages. (Milkowski)