Dave Brubeck continues to record, even in his 87th year, as if music were a necessary element of being, like breathing or talking. Which it is. The man who popularized jazz on college campuses, made palatable to a broad public unusual time signatures, and formed one of the most distinctive quartet in jazz history now looks back. Past the formation of his jazz groups. To adolescence. And marriage. And war. Brubeck did this before on One Alone and Private Brubeck Remembers. On Indian Summer, though, Brubeck goes all the way back to the songs he first played publicly as a teen, including "I’m Alone," a popular waltz in the 1930’s he performed for dances. Obviously, Brubeck’s years at the College of the Pacific, where he studied first took music seriously, were important in the development of his style, and surprisingly enough, he plays the college’s alma mater a track that the college no doubt will be playing on campus for years. Once again, though, the alma mater provides Brubeck with the opportunity to reminisce as it describes the mountains and valleys of northern California of Brubeck’s youth.
On Indian Summer, Brubeck is being musically reflective. That mood of calm thoughtfulness pervades the album, a solo project recorded only two days after Brubeck injured his leg in Tyler, Texas, where he was on tour. The effects of the pain are not evident. However, his fondness for the delights of long-past youth and his excitement then for future life experiences are evident as Brubeck looks back, carefully, pensively, unhurriedly. Indian Summer certainly is appropriately named, even though Brubeck himself missed the song’s implications. His wife, Iola, had to point out to him the metaphor of the brightness of changing leaf colors before they fall. Brubeck, quite literally, was thinking of his first date, an Indian classmate, when he considered the song title. After some explanation, he understood the aptness of the title, whose suggestions of knowing remembrance infuse all 71 minutes of the album.
As I listened to Indian Summer, I was reminded of the contrasting exuberance of "Charles Matthew Hallelujah" from Time Further Out, which was written on the occasion of the birth of Brubeck’s fifth son, now 46 years old. Indian Summer contains none of that. And Brubeck offers none of the tinkering with time signatures for which his quartet became famous. Instead, Indian Summer is uniformly poignant and ruminative.
Some of Brubeck’s earlier recorded pieces appear on this album. The Brubecks’ "Summer Song" from the 1956 Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A. is especially appropriate, as the tune fits in with the seasonal theme of the album. So does, of course, their "Autumn in Our Town" and "September Song," played not sadly so much as wistfully. It appears that Brubeck is particularly affected by the lyrics: "When the autumn weather / Turns leaves to flame" [as depicted on the liners’ cover].
Of course, the contemplative aspect of Brubeck’s playing has always been present, though it was less noticeable then his more rousing themes like "Blue Rondo a la Turk." For instance, it’s interesting to compare Brubeck’s Indian Summer version of "Georgia on My Mind" to the one on Gone with the Wind, recorded when Brubeck was 38. The same sense of feeling for the song, the light stride, the pauses and his recognizable re-harmonizations are present on both recordings, performed a generation apart. Even Indian Summer’s "I’m Afraid the Masquerade Is Over" contains Brubeckian technical elements that have been present in his playing throughout his career.
Even now, nearing 90, Dave Brubeck continues a demanding touring schedule including being the honored guest at the fiftieth anniversary of the Monterey Jazz Festival, where he was the one of the jazz artists to kick it off in its first year. And Brubeck continues to record, as he looks back across the expanse of one of the most significant careers in jazz.