I think it certain that it will be a long while before any artistic event in Staples Auditorium can match the excitement generated, the enjoyment provided, and the satisfaction awarded by the March 9 concert given by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The outcome of the happening was as successful as anyone on campus could have anticipated. From the very moment the four polished musicians began to display their flawless improvisatory technique, the audience was being treated to an experience quite apart from ordinary entertainment.
The caliber of the performance stretched far beyond any capabilities I might have for responsibly criticizing such musical results. However, I shall precede to list points about the numbers executed and report on the conversations which I had with the quartet members.
With Dave Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Joe Morello on drums, and Eugene Wright on string bass, the sounds of “The St. Louis Blues” emerged as the opening number. It is invariably used by Brubeck as the opening composition. In this selection each individual performer is allowed to take several choruses in order to find out what the audience wants to hear. It was quite evident the listeners liked them all, so the rest of the program was shared fairly equally by the individuals of the group.
Before the intermission six tunes, mostly from older albums had been played. On “These Foolish Things”, Desmond, without the aid of any gimmicks often resorted to by other contemporary jazz saxophonists, was extremely expressive. Wright exhibited his control of the bass on this number as he took a four chorus solo on which he used, among other things, double stops (the playing of two strings simultaneously). Each number was well developed, and the variety of the selections should have covered nearly all musical tastes.
After intermission numbers from more recent albums were rendered. The melodies were “Raggedly Waltz,” “Countdown,” “Fast Life,” ‘Castillian Drums,” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk.” On “Castillian Drums” Morello, all alone, took a seven minute ride. For the finale, “Blue Rondo,” Brubeck used mixtures of blues, harmonic groupings, and keyboard fluidity seldom heard.
During the intermission I went backstage to talk with Desmond. Paul Emil Breitenfeld (“I picked the named Desmond out of the phone directory,” he says) was calmly reading a book. I was very surprised at the hospitality which I was extended after having read of an aloofness ascribed to Mr. Desmond by many critics. The main topic I pursued in my talk with Desmond was what he was thinking about when he was constructing an Improvised chorus.
He said, “I have no set scheme of thought while working with a solo. I most often think in terms of certain necessary notes and then concentrate on getting to them. Then there are instances in which I don’t particularly think of anything. I go gliding along, and, suddenly, I am -where I want to be.”
When I got over to Eugene Wright, the group was preparing to go back on stage for the second set. He commented that the people out front were certainly a good jazz audience. “Yes,” I thought, “either a good jazz crowd or some quick converts.”
After the concert was over, I went backstage again. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to speak to Joe Morello. Joe, who is regarded as the best jazz drummer in the world, was intently conversing with a former friend of his from Little Rock. Morello seemed to be a bit concerned over the fact that he could not tune his snare drum to meet his demands.
Brubeck himself was very well pleased with the performance. He said the audience was very responsive. As for jazz itself, he feels, like I many others, that it is a combination of the formal values of Western music and the fire, beat, and drive of African music. For him jazz is the strongest claim to a culture that America has produced so far, as it has taken the strengths of both cultures (African and the West) and is consequently stronger than either one.
When asked about the possibilities of a split between Desmond and himself, Brubeck explained that they were rather unique in jazz. “The secret is the individuality that the group allows each member, for most musical group personnel can’t stand each other for sixteen years. We allow the personality of each musician to emerge. When you have a group like ours, maybe we could split up and form other good groups, but they wouldn’t be so good as the original, so we’ve stuck together.”
Soon after the curtain had descended, the quartet members quickly packed up their belongings and departed. Perhaps some day they may return.
Editor’s Note: Chris Brubeck’s trio performed at UALR recently. Dave, his father, who died recently one day short of 92, played in Arkansas only once, at Hendrix College, in March 1962. Brubeck and his legendary sax man Paul Desmond were interviewed backstage by Hendrix senior (and sax man) John Whitaker of Harrisburg for the school newspaper. Both were surprisingly open to questions by Whitaker, as his interview indicates.