Monday, December 06, 2010


Today is Dave Brubeck’s 90th birthday, and if that means nothing to you, may I suggest you settle in front of the TV and hope there’s a repeat of Bristol Palin attempting to trip the light fantastic on “Dancing With the (Third-Rate) Stars.”
When I graduated from grammar school in 1965, my parents gave me my own record-player, a Westinghouse portable about the size of a large briefcase. Immediately, I filled out a coupon in a magazine and joined the Columbia Record Club, meaning you got four albums for the price of shipping and handling (what the hell was a handling charge, anyway, other than a rip-off—even Amazon has the good sense not to charge for handling). One of the four albums was “The Dave Brubeck Quartet At Carnegie Hall,” a legendary jazz recording of the group’s incredible—and unedited-- 1963 concert to a sold-out audience who appeared as if by magic in the middle of one of the longest newspaper strikes in New York history (farewell New York Mirror, hello New York Review of Books).
I listened to that two-disc album so much during high school that by my senior year the records were so scratched you could only listen to them by sitting nearby and moving the needle whenever it got stuck in a battered groove. At some point, I bought a replacement, but ten minutes ago I put the original on the turntable (yep, still have one), hoping for a miracle. Alas, it sounded like an early experiment by Thomas Edison. Now, of course, I can listen to the concert via my iPod—no scratches, but no memories, either.
I was a huge fan of the quartet: Brubeck on piano, the witty Paul Desmond on alto sax (he once said he wanted to sound like a dry martini--and he did) Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums.
When some friends and I were old enough to travel by ourselves on the subway, I saw the quartet perform at Carnegie Hall, Lewisohn Stadium on the CCNY campus (where Duke Ellington appeared on the same bill), and the Singer Bowl in Queens (the same concert where I heard Louis Armstrong). The music has meant so much to me over these many years that I was really pleased when TCM aired a lovely new documentary this evening about Dave, his family, and the quartet. He may be 90, but he’s still touring.
Happy Birthday, Dave—may you play many, many more sweet notes in whatever time signature you choose.


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