Dave Brubeck Quartet

NDR 60 Years Jazz Ed.


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DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET – 28 February 1958, Hanover

The ambassadors are coming!

For a few hours on this Friday evening Hanover became the centre of the German Jazz scene. For the first time ever a musician came to Europe whose rise to fame at home in the USA up to then and afterwards had been fairly vertical: Dave Brubeck, born on the 6th of December 1920 in the Californian beach town of Concord. The American foreign ministry had sent him on a world tour (just as they had sent Louis Armstrong) as a “Jazz ambassador”: Brubeck’s quartet travels to India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, Iran, Iraq and Turkey. The European itinerary includes Poland and Germany, specifically on this 28th of February of the year 1958 a stop in Hanover. NDR sends a broadcasting van to cover this “state visit”. The venue is Niedersachsenhalle in the regional capital of Lower Saxony where, in the subsequent years, 1959 and 1960, “Jazz at the Philharmonic” was also staged, even though this hall was the somewhat less successful “little brother” of the more prestigious Stadthalle with its domed hall next door. This was reserved for the so-called classical concerts; and Jazz (let’s not forget this) at the end of the 1950s was still regarded by many as inferior music in every respect, particularly in a Germany which had just emerged from the Nazi era.

At home in the USA at this time Dave Brubeck has to cope with very different types of resistance. He is fighting with concert organisers and TV stations on behalf of the bassist who has just joined the quartet. Eugene Wright is his name and he has Afro-American roots. “Black” musicians, however, are not acceptable to American TV. On the anniversary of Dave Brubeck’s death, the day before his 92nd birthday, i.e. on the 5th of December 2012, this Eugene Wright, born in 1923 and 90 years old in May 2013, is the last surviving member of the “classical” Brubeck quartet that appeared on the 28th of February 1958 in Hanover for the ambassador concert. On this evening he and Brubeck are joined by the drummer Joe Morello, born in 1928, died in March 2011, and Paul Desmond on the alto saxophone. Desmond, born Paul Emil Breitenfeld in 1924 in San Francisco, had been part of Brubeck’s first band foundation in 1947, an octet, and was the decisive partner for the pianist for nearly twenty years. Desmond died in 1977, at the age of only 53, and left his partner Brubeck the most enduring hit of their collaboration, probably the most famous Jazz composition of all time: “Take Five”.


Brubeck fans will notice that the piece in five-four rhythm is not included in the Hanover recordings. There is a simple reason for this – Desmond, the composer, may well already have been carrying it around in his creative mind on the ambassador tour, but it was only actually recorded a year later for “Time Out”, the Brubeck album which was released in 1959 and which definitively established him and the quartet as masters of Jazz. At the Hanover concert Brubeck talks a lot (always a little shy and hoarse) in particular about the rhythmic ambitions of the band – for example about how he and the band can lay 3/4 and 4/4 beats under the melodies at the same time; how independently and actually ahead of its time the music of Brubeck’s quartet is basically playing with the different metres and structures. Who knows to what extent his audience in the Niedersachsenhalle even understood these explanations – at times their amazement gave way to agreeable laughter.

It is obvious, however, how accustomed the band leader was to giving explanations of this kind – he himself had been classically trained, had got to know the Viennese exile Arnold Schönberg as a teacher in lectures, but never came to agree with him. From Darius Milhaud, on the other hand, he received an enormous amount of compositional inspiration and energy which was soon realised in semi-classical works. In the year after the performance in Hanover, for example, Brubeck gave a concert for Jazz band and symphony orchestra that his brother Howard had composed. And in the highly successful 1960s Brubeck found a proximity to teaching and learning, so to speak to Jazz lessons, for the quartet – the series of college concerts is impressive and legendary.

Back to the Hanover college … While Brubeck challenged the producers for the program of the “Time Out” LP a year later with a lot of his own compositions, at the end of February 1958 he only included two of his own works among a lot of Jazz material from the “American Songbook“, without resorting populistically to the eternal hits and evergreens of the time. Recognising “Gone With The Wind” at the start of the concert shows just how knowledgeable the audience is. The Brubeck original “One Moment Worth Years” is followed by “Someday My Prince Will Come”, a hit from the popular “Snow White” film by Walt Disney (whom Brubeck greatly admired, as evidenced by the LP program “Dave digs Disney“), but above all the pianist can celebrate the mix of rhythms here which dominates the rest of the evening. Then the bassist Eugene Wright takes centre stage: some standards follow: “For All We Know” and Ellington’s “Take the A-Train”, received with enthusiastic applause and introduced by Brubeck’s own Ellington homage “The Duke“; then “Out Of Nowhere”. We can still be astounded by the clarity of the recording, making the dialogue between Desmond and Brubeck sound as if it was recorded today; and although countless technical advances have been made to improve the quality in the more than half a century since these recording – an outstanding live recording from then, overseen by the radio technicians from NDR, can still distinguish itself with flying colours.

“Two-part Contention” at the start of the second CD has a quite cryptic title, which probably nobody in the audience understood (a play on the words convention and contention). Its rhythmic alternating structure, however, is enormously productive. With “I’m in a Dancing Mood” the quartet actually takes to the dance floor for a few minutes and Joe Morello quickly introduces Latin rhythms as a foretaste of the drum solo to come. First, however, Brubeck plays a genuine classic with “These Foolish Things” – then Morello gets started: a crash course for would-be percussionists. Then comes the finale with “St. Louis Blues”; a few years later “Take Five” would have been played at the latest here as an encore.

In the whole treasure trove of recordings from six decades of Jazz at NDR, this one stands out in particular, because it is one of the first in the series of concerts recorded outside of the broadcasting station. The “Jazz at the Philharmonic” galas had already been recorded in Hamburg in the Ernst Merck Hall on the grounds of the present-day Hamburg trade fair. And in the broadcasting station itself, more precisely in Studio 10 (the present-day Rolf Liebermann Studio), NDR’s first archived Jazz recording was made in 1953: with Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet and Hans Koller’s band with Jutta Hipp and Albert Mangelsdorff (released within the framework of this series as No. 01)). This is where the series of NDR Jazz workshops also began. But with increasing regularity the transmission vans were making their way to other Jazz venues. In 1958 for the first time the itinerary included Hanover and Brubeck. From the start of the 1970s the Jazz department (and the NDR big band) turned demonstratively to the external effect, and NDR microphones documented live concerts by a wide range of Jazz formations in the club scene of the “Fabrik” in Hamburg-Altona, in the Eppendorf pub “Onkel Pö’s Carnegie Hall” and at the various venues for Hamburg Jazz festivals.

But it all began with Dave Brubeck’s quartet on the ambassador tour on the 28th of February 1958 in Hanover.


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