Who knew jazz could do that, before Dave Brubeck did it?
Before Brubeck, Dixieland was the only jazz I knew, from my parents’ 78s; then his “Time Out” exploded the 4/4 and 3/4 beats of most jazz up to that time (1959).
When I took my first girlfriend, Anne M., to see the Dave Brubeck Quartet at the former Colonie Summer Theater in 1963, we saw four instrumentalists play with one mind. I wonder if she still has the program that I fearlessly toted into the dressing room and asked them to sign.
They were nice about it, delivering my third important lesson from them about jazz: that the gods can be nice guys. (Recapping, the first two were that jazz could mess with time in a serious way and that jazz players could unite into a single creative organism of sound.)
Brubeck himself delivered the fourth and fifth lessons to me in a phone interview in 2006. He told me of his U.S. State Department tour in 1958 when he saw how jazz inspired people everywhere, and he described everyone’s surprise when “Take Five” from “Time Out” became a surprise jukebox hit in 1959, when jazz just didn’t do that. (OK, four was that jazz is world music and five is that jazz is popular music.)
Brubeck’s last lesson to me was seeing him at the Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival on June 27, 2009. I asked in my review if that would be the last time we saw him. For me, it was. He seemed frighteningly frail as he was helped to the piano. But when he sat and raised his hands to the keyboard, he seemed to be struck by Stokowski lightning. That was lesson six: inspired agelessness.
Brubeck’s years vanished, leaving talent, energy, experience and grinning joy at what he could still do, at the piano, with his band and the audience, who both loved him.
Stokowski lightning is what I call that magical thing that happens when an older artist starts to play. The great conductor Leopold Stokowski seemed so ancient, that single time I ever saw him make music it was really scary. He needed help to mount the podium at Carnegie Hall on that unprecedented, astounding weekend of three shows in that great room in November 1971. (Pink Floyd played their new “Meddle” album and much of “Dark Side of the Moon” on Friday night, Stokowski and the American Symphony Orchestra played mostly Beethoven on Saturday afternoon, and the Chicago Symphony played Mahler on Saturday night — all at Carnegie Hall.)
Once he faced the orchestra, Stokowski was completely rejuvenated, energizing the orchestra and the music. When they finished Beethoven’s 7th Symphony, he leaned heavily on the arm of his assistant and was led very slowly offstage. But then he insisted on being led back, just as slowly, and he resumed. He said, “Wonderful music of Beethoven; now, wonderful music of Bach” — introducing an encore, a highly unusual and precious bonus.
Brubeck had Stokowski lightning until near the end of his supremely productive life, probably because he was motivated by such a powerful vision. He told me in 2006: “Someday jazz will be the music of world. I said that in an interview in 1949 and no one knew what I was taking about, but it’s all come true.” And perhaps no one ever did more to make it so than Dave Brubeck.
Brubeck’s life/career ended just weeks after the Latham venue where I first saw and met him was demolished. Under whatever name, it was a flawed, fantastic place, where special shows still live in memory.
It’s where I saw and in most cases also got to meet Johnny Cash, the Everly Brothers, Nanci Griffith, Ricky Skaggs, Kool & the Gang, Travis Tritt, Luther Vandross, Third World, many Marleys, Smoky Robinson, a late version of the Temptations and many more.
It’s where I showed James Brown a Polaroid of my son Zak in a stroller with a James Brown bumper sticker across the front. He grinned and put it into his pocket, saying, “Now I’ll always have you!” And of course he was right.
’Tis the season, for annual favorites that happen only now.
On Saturday, The Eighth Step presents its “Sing Solstice!” show at Proctors Underground (432 State St., Schenectady) featuring, as always, Kim & Reggie Harris, and Magpie, with guests the storytelling Bruchacs and the Morris dancing Pokingbrook Dancers.
Show time is 7 p.m. Tickets are $22 in advance, $24 on Saturday. Phone 434-1703 or 346-6204 or visit www.eighthstep.org or www.proctors.org.
Also on Saturday, the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 Second St., Troy) presents Irish singers and instrumentalists Cherish the Ladies in “A Celtic Christmas.” Leader-flutist Joanie Madden has built the group into a seasoned and versatile performing troupe that really shines in this holiday celebration.
Show time is 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $29, $25 and $20. Phone 273-0038 or visit www.troymusichall.org.
Last, and likely best, Mountain Snow & Mistletoe — folksingers Chris Shaw and Bridget Ball’s all-star holiday revue — returns to The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) for shows on Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. For profound and beautiful music, and comic antics deluxe, this annual favorite may be unmatched. Shaw and Ball’s “Mountain Snow Orchestra” has featured the same crackerjack cast of characters for years: John “he-plays-anything” Kirk, guitarist Kevin McKrell and percussionist/elf Brian Melick.
Tickets to Mountain Snow & Mistletoe are $24. Phone 473-1845 or visit www.theegg.org.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at firstname.lastname@example.org.