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Dave Brubeck, one of the most influential jazz pianists of the 20th century, may have had a very different career—and indeed a very different life—were it not for a fortunate turn of events during his tour of duty in the U.S. Army during World War II.
Shortly after D-Day—June 6, 1944—a 23-year-old Pfc. David Brubeck and the rest of his company in Patton's Third Army were camped outside the French city of Verdun, not far from the front lines. A Red Cross truck with a piano loaded on the back drove up, and Brubeck volunteered to play a few songs to entertain the rest of the troops. The next morning, he was headed for the front—and an uncertain future—until a colonel called him back and insisted that he stay behind and form a band.
As head of the Wolf Pack Band (the name was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the German submarine fleet), Brubeck spent the rest of his military service as a musician and entertainer. Although he served his country on the bandstand rather than in the trenches, he was no stranger to the perils of war. He and his band played for the troops behind enemy lines at the Battle of the Bulge. In Germany, they crossed the Rhine on a hastily built pontoon bridge at Remagen.
On May 25, 2004, just in time for the 60th anniversary of D-Day—the Allied invasion of Normandy Beach in France, and the turning point in a war that changed the world—Telarc will release Private Brubeck Remembers. The album is a collection of uniquely crafted, solo piano renditions of some of the most famous songs from World War II, many of which Brubeck played during his tour of duty with the Wolf Pack Band.
"The titles of the tunes are almost an autobiography of my war years," says Brubeck. "I think every person who has ever worn a military uniform can relate to my story."
The list of fourteen tracks will sound familiar to anyone who remembers the World War II era, or any student of the period. Among them are: "For All We Know," "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree (with Anyone Else But Me)," "Don't Worry 'bout Me," Richard Rogers' "Where or When," Jerome Kern's "The Last Time I Saw Paris" and Cole Porter's "You'd Be So Nice To Come Home To." Included in the mix are a pair of Brubeck originals, both penned during the last years of the war. "We Crossed the Rhine" is built on the rhythm of the heavy equipment trucks crossing the bridge at Remagen, while "Weep No More" is a ballad that Brubeck wrote for his wife, Iola, after Germany surrendered and the war in Europe was over.
This year, as the world celebrates the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Europe, relive the final years of World War II with a young soldier who would later become a jazz legend.