Fantasy/Original Jazz Classics has added yet another treasure to their already burgeoning catalog with the release of a second volume of music from Dave Brubeck’s
legendary 1953 concert at the College of the Pacific
. Naturally, this CD will be a must for all Brubeck fans. But before I discuss the music, I must relate Dave’s own account of his college days.
The Brubeck family owned a large ranch, and Dave was expected to continue in the family business. He went to the College of the Pacific in the early 1940’s to pursue a degree in veterinary medicine. He dropped out of the program and joined the school of music because he soon discovered that his heart was in music, not science. But Dave had problems in the music school as well. He had learned piano and was accomplished in both piano technique and improvising abilities. But he never learned how to read music well and knew very little about music theory. He passed his music curriculum almost solely based on his ability to write and improvise. And he was graduated only after promising the music faculty that he would never teach music or associate himself with College of the Pacific.
Of course, all of this had changed by 1953, when Dave was recognized as one of the brightest new stars in jazz and was only months away from making the cover of Time magazine. The College had invited Brubeck’s quartet to play for the students at a well-publicized concert on the night of December 14, 1953. The program lasted for an hour and a half, and Fantasy, Dave’s record label, arranged for the entire evening to be recorded.
The evening produced some of the Quartet’s most memorable music up to that date, and though the event took place almost 50 years ago, it has remained vivid in Dave Brubeck’s memory. The group, of course, went on to become Brubeck’s first great quartet, uniting Dave with altoist Paul Desmond and also featuring bassist Ron Crotty and drummer Joe Dodge, who had just recently joined the group and was making his first public appearance with them at this concert.
The question usually asked by jazz fans when a musical treasure is suddenly heaped upon them after so many years is "Why not sooner?" Upon listening to the disc, several plausible reasons come to mind. This being a live recording, there are naturally a few technical flaws, as well as slight flubs such as missed entrances or unsure codas. And three of the tunes here were recorded by Fantasy a few months earlier and released as a part of Brubeck’s legendary "Jazz At Oberlin" album. But the group is much more relaxed here, and "Stardust", "How High The Moon", and "The Way You Look Tonight" each take on a unique character that differs them quite substantially from the earlier versions.
The gem of this set, without any question, is the quartet’s poignant reading of "Stardust", an eight-minute excursion that exemplifies everything that the Brubeck quartet’s fans cherished. Desmond’s melodic touch, modern and yet surprisingly free of "Bird-isms", seems to tap into a higher level of consciousness. The band’s minimal accompaniment allows Paul to soar to a level that, according to Brubeck, Desmond himself would rarely reach again. Brubeck’s quiet, reflective chords draw us in, growing steadily, before Paul returns us back to the earth again -- all without ever stating Hoagy Charmichael’s original melody.
The rest of the disc also does not disappoint, beginning with the harmonic twists of "Crazy Rhythm", the band’s jolly romp through "Give A Little Whistle" (a foretaste of Dave’s lifelong love of Disney music), and swinging through familiar standards "Let’s Fall In Love" and "Love Walked In". As an added bonus, a recording made by the college in 1942 of Brubeck performing a rollicking Art Tatum-inspired version of "I Found A New Baby" at a student recital is included as the final track.