Jazz Ambassador

Legend Dave Brubeck gets ready to charm Centennial Hall--with some help from his kids

From the time he was born, music surrounded Chris Brubeck. He called brilliant alto saxophonist Paul Desmond "Uncle Paul." In and out of the home came such famous sidemen as drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright.

"I used to crawl under the piano and listen to those guys play. I was pretty proud of my dad from a young age," Brubeck fondly recalled earlier this week while on a brief vacation in Sedona.

His dad, if you haven't already guessed, is Dave Brubeck, the 85-year-old jazz pianist, bandleader and composer. The first jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, the elder Brubeck in the 1950s helped bring jazz out of the nightclubs and onto college campuses, reawakening mainstream interest in jazz since it had waned after World War II. One of the founding fathers of West Coast or cool jazz, Brubeck toured the globe as an ambassador for jazz for more than half a century.

Chris Brubeck, now a 54-year-old bassist and trombonist, will join his father and 51-year-old drummer brother, Dan, for a concert this Saturday evening, March 25, at the UA's Centennial Hall.

Billed as Dave Brubeck and Sons, the ensemble will be a quartet for this performance, its fourth member being alto sax player Bobby Militello, who has played with the elder Brubeck since 1982.

The 6 p.m. concert will be the centerpiece of UApresents' Ninth Annual Gala, which starts at 4:30 p.m. on the Centennial Hall patio with a silent auction and cocktails. The fundraising gala will continue after the concert with dinner and a live auction on the UA mall.

Tickets to the fundraising gala cost $250 per person, although you may buy tickets for the concert only (see accompanying details).

The brothers Brubeck consider it a special treat to play with their dad, Chris said, because families and schedules make it a rare event these days.

Dave Brubeck still maintains a regular quartet, which still tours Europe and the United States for as much as two months at a time. "We've been trying to get him to cut down, but he doesn't seem to be able to," Chris said, "and he's more revered in Europe even than he is here."

Chris and Dan have their own group, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet. Chris also is a trombonist and classical composer, whose most recent CD, Convergence, focuses on his orchestral work. Last weekend, Chris was in South Bend, Ind., playing his trombone concerto with a symphony orchestra.

There are six Brubeck siblings, ranging in age from 44 to 59. Four of them play music. Eldest Darius teaches jazz at a university in South Africa, and youngest Matthew has played cello for a variety of artists, including Oranj Symphonette, Tom Waits, Sheryl Crow and the Dixie Chicks.

"Back in the 1970s, we played all over the world as a family group," Chris said. "It has been really nice to be able to not only follow in Dave's footsteps career-wise, but to do it under his watchful eye."

Chris laughed remembering an essay in David Sedaris' book Me Talk Pretty One Day in which Sedaris recounts his parents taking him and his sisters to a Brubeck family concert. They immediately pushed the kids to take music lessons. "(Sedaris) said it was just horrible, because his parents wanted them all to play together like we did."

The Brubecks will prepare a set list in advance of the concert Saturday night, but Chris said his father often makes last-minute changes while on stage.

"He'll sense a vibe from the audience, and he'll just know they would want to hear something energetic or something melancholy. So we'll just play that. Sometimes, he'll call out a song that we've never played together."

I asked Chris whether he or his father ever grew weary of requests to perform classic Brubeck tunes such as "Take Five" or "Blue Rondo a la Turk." Never, he said.

"There are maybe five or six of those tunes from Dave's career that are like that, that people aren't satisfied unless they hear them. If you don't play it, it's like a great meal without the dessert.

"But no, I don't mind it a bit. It's like a part of my heritage, and music's heritage, and it's an honor to be able to play such a great piece of music."

And it looks as if the audience at Centennial Hall will get its dessert Saturday night.

"I am pretty sure that 'Take Five' will be one of the ones that we play, because my brother Dan is such a fantastic drummer, especially with odd time signatures, and that song has a lot of that," Chris said.

He said that since he and his brother lead a group together, he gets to see Dan play drums often. "I mean, I love watching him kick butt. But it gives me even greater pleasure to watch Dave watching Dan kick butt."