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On The Radio: Live 1956-57 by The Dave Brubeck Quartet

Just as jazz enthusiasts think that they have been afforded numerous listening opportunities for legendary jazz artists including by reissues, newly found studio recordings, box sets and concert recording tapes Acrobat Music Group has just acquired a trove of radio broadcasts and out-of-print LP’s through its acquisition of a library of more than 22,000 recordings. Acrobat Music’s first releases include never-heard-before recordings of Frank Sinatra, Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Carmen McRae and John Coltrane.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet broadcasts create interest beyond their intrinsic value of the group outside the recording studio because of its side-by-side contrasting of the quartet in evolution. Brubeck’s group, newly re-formed in the early 1950’s, underwent several rhythm section changes, the most important of which are represented on the reissue. The first 12 tracks of On the Radio: Live 1956-57 come from a session at Basin Street Jazz Club in New York, and Joe Dodge was the drummer during that engagement. The final three were broadcast at The Blue Note in Chicago, where the drummer who allowed Brubeck’s quartet to explore its well-known compositions in varying time signatures Joe Morello sat in during a two-month tour. Two years later, all of the elements of the famous Dave Brubeck Quartet were in place, including the addition of Morello and bassist Eugene Wright.

The 15 broadcasts on CD, though, give a sense of the nature of jazz radio broadcasts in the 1950’s, on which musicians performed on cue (instead of in the controlled studio environment) and where announcers said strange, circumlocutory things like "you are well within the realms of possibility and well within the realm of actuality," which basically means nothing but sounds Rod Serling-ish. While such fashionable speech was intended to be consistent with the fashionable leading edge represented by jazz at the time, the music itself remained constant in its intrinsic value and memorable expressive abilities.

Some of the songs that the quartet played in ensuing years, such as "Gone with the Wind" or "In Your Own Sweet Way," were already arranged before the Basin Street and Blue Note broadcasts. And Desmond’s inimitable tone was fully developed and unmistakable even at this stage. Its sweetness comes across especially on the slower-tempo ballads like "Stardust," in which Desmond skirts the melody itself to deliver his own song based on the changes, much as he did years later with Gerry Mulligan on Two of a Mind. Interestingly, Brubeck’s composition, "A Minor Thing," appears only on this recording, and the reason for never commiting it to posterity otherwise is a mystery because of its inherent beauty, which as always Desmond elucidates. While Brubeck’s solo emphasizes the minor mood of the piece, Desmond uplifts it, brightening the melody and never hinting at its darker underpinnings. Indeed, Desmond seems to be the constant in the quartet, as Brubeck’s style continued to evolve once Morella opened the door to other possibilities in meter. In 1956, the quartet was still playing some novelty tunes like "The Trolley Song" ("a pretty delightful thing," says the announcer) and nonetheless transforming them with its ability simultaneously to swing and soothe.

The temptation exists to compare the group’s sound under the differing styles of the drummers (although Basin Street obviously offered Brubeck a better piano, the muffled tinniness of The Blue Note’s never deterring Brubeck anyway). On "I’m in a Dancing Mood," Brubeck does experiment with metrical tension, playing broading with a feeling of four over Morello’s steadfast rhythm of three. And the song itself undergoes several rhythmic changes, including the vamp, ironically, of "The Trolley Song" before charging into a hard swing. In contrast, "The Song Is You" (with Morello) is straightforward enough that no individual drumming personality identity is suggested.

The imagination, confidence and technique that the quartet employs throughout both broadcasts, though, shows that their unique sound had already arrived. In only a few more and after a few more innovations with which The Dave Brubeck Quartet is associated, it would become immortal. Acrobat Music has provided a valuable service to jazz collectors who are seeking even more previously unheard radio broadcasts of some of the legendary jazz artists of the twentieth century.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: The Dave Brubeck Quartet
  • CD Title: On The Radio: Live 1956-57
  • Genre: Straight-Ahead / Classic
  • Year Released: 2008
  • Reissue Original Release: 1956 & 1957
  • Record Label: Acrobat
  • Tracks: The Duke & Introduction, Stardust, Gone with the Wind, Stompin’ for Mili, Out of Nowhere, A Minor Thing, In Your Own Sweet Way, The Trolley Song, Introductxion & The Duke, Love Walked In, Here Lies Love, All the Things You Are, The Duke & Introduction, I’m in a Dancing Mood, The Song Is You
  • Musicians: Dave Brubeck, piano; Paul Desmond, alto saxophone; Norman Bates, bass; Joe Dodge, Joe Morello, drums
  • Rating: Four Stars
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