Over the course of seven decades, Dave Brubeck has become one of the most iconic and influential figures in all of jazz. In that time, the pianist/composer/bandleader continually has defied conventions and preconceptions by grafting elements of numerous styles — classical, Latin, pop and more — into a solid and unwavering jazz foundation and creating a musical hybrid that still is deeply rooted in the jazz tradition. While his 1959 opus, Time Out, is considered a landmark recording, it represents only the tip of the iceberg that is Brubeck’s massive and enduring body of recorded work.
Concord Music Group provides a sweeping look at that body of work in The Definitive Dave Brubeck on Fantasy, Concord Jazz and Telarc. The ambitious two-disc collection — the latest in CMG’s ongoing Definitive series — assembles some of Brubeck’s earliest session work from the 1940s as well as some of his more recent recordings from the past few decades. The Definitive Dave Brubeck is set for release on November 16, 2010, in celebration of the music icon’s 90th birthday on December 6.
The collection’s comprehensive liner notes — written by music journalist and historian Ashley Kahn and based on a recent interview with Russell Gloyd, Brubeck’s manager/producer/conductor of more than 30 years — carefully parse out each of the 26 tracks in the set and the relationship between the two distinct periods represented on each disc. Disc 1 chronicles the Fantasy years, from the very beginning of Fantasy Records in the 1940s to the end of 1953, when Brubeck still was learning, absorbing, experimenting and recording mostly standards and other jazz repertoire — already proving himself to be a top-tier musician and bandleader. Disc 2 follows the artist from the 1980s to the early years of the 21st century, performing many of his own compositions, still exploring and creating vibrant music.
“The link between these two discs is one of consistency,” says Gloyd, producer of The Definitive Dave Brubeck collection. “Most of the elements of Disc 2 — melodic ideas and musical innovations, the choice of songs and sidemen — can be traced back to Disc 1, especially with the early Trio recordings.”
Regardless of where one lands on the continuum of Brubeck’s career, the exploratory nature of his approach to music remains constant. “Whether it’s his earliest recordings or his more recent releases, Brubeck is consistently probing, curious and inventive,” says Nick Phillips, Concord Music Group’s Vice President of Jazz and Catalog A&R and director of Concord’s Definitive series. “He’s a rare artist who has never put up barriers between genres. Here you have someone who was studying classical music and classical composition in a conservatory setting, but ultimately decided to become a jazz artist. That, however, didn’t mean he’d put up a wall between jazz and classical, or jazz and Latin, or what have you.”
As one example, Russell Gloyd cites Brubeck’s Trio recording of “How High the Moon”: “Note that Dave cut this right at the height of bop but took it in a completely different direction, recording counterpoint for the first time and winding up closing in the style of a Bach chorale.” Another example, more than three decades later, is Brubeck’s recording of “Take Five” live in the Soviet Union, in which he quotes the theme from the first movement of Shostakovich’s Fifth Symphony in his piano improvisation.
The juxtaposition of the early and recent recordings within a single collection highlights what Kahn calls the “scripted quality” to the Dave Brubeck story, “as if some master novelist sketched out the narrative in advance. There’s hardly a wasted step or a creative dead-end in his career; early decisions and musical forays consistently predicted or prepared Brubeck for what followed . . . To recognize this aspect of Brubeck’s career is to grasp the idea that serves as the foundation for this collection: the first time the earliest echoes of his musical genius have been combined with his best recordings of recent years.” Indeed, it makes for a most fitting celebration of the 90th anniversary of the legendary artist’s birth.
On Monday, December , Turner Classic Movies (TCM) will also celebrate Brubeck’s birthday with the premiere of Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way, a new documentary executive-produced by Clint Eastwood and narrated by TCM Essentials co-host Alec Baldwin. Directed by Bruce Ricker, the film features perceptive interviews with such well known luminaries as George Lucas, Sting and Bill Cosby and performances by Keith Emerson, Yo-Yo Ma and David Benoit.
For all of the insight provided by The Definitive Brubeck, the story is far from over. Unimpeded by the approach of his 90th birthday in early December, Brubeck continues to follow the narrative. “He has always been, and continues to be, a restlessly creative artist,” says Gloyd.