The Fantasy Era is a 15-track portrait of the legendary pianist in his early days on the Fantasy label between 1949 and 1953. "This collection presents the music of Dave Brubeck - but before he became ‘Dave Brubeck,'" says Neil Tesser in his liner notes, referring to the mantle of fame that the artist had assumed by the late '50s. "Brubeck thought of himself as a composer who happened to play piano, but his concepts were way ahead of his time . . . So he supported himself as a jazz pianist, applying his remarkable ear to the music he heard but had never learned to read. The recordings in this collection document those days, starting with Brubeck's first trio, which comprised the rhythm section from his octet: bassist Ron Crotty and drummer Cal Tjader, who would later achieve fame as a Latin-jazz vibraphonist."
The Brubeck collection also paints a picture of a humble individual whose contribution to jazz, however towering it would eventually become, would never get the best of his ego. "Among music people - instrumentalists and singers, writers and fans, record producers and concert presenters - you will find a consensus: Dave Brubeck is the nicest man in jazz," says Tesser. "When Brubeck's name comes up, the most reliably cynical speakers soften; their eyes light up, and the word ‘nice' blossoms into a portrait of considerate kindness and unassuming artistry . . . It's the reason why ‘Dave Brubeck,' the celebrity, has never strayed far from Dave Brubeck, the musician you hear on these tracks - the place where it all began."