WITH CHET BAKER
Conducted in 1978 by Gudrun Endress Editor and Co-publisher of JAZZ PODIUM MAGAZINE
always wondered that you had so much trouble in your life,
while you still had the possibilities to keep up so much
beauty in your music.
How did you manage that?
Well, I think partly because I recognized early in
life that there is a lot of what we say in America is
bullshit to go through and I saw many people greatly
affected by things that happened to them and I just kind
of had it in my head to try to put that part of me in a
sort of unreachable place, you know.
So as to try to maintain it as best I could.
And it worked out.
Unreachable place, does it come out maybe, if not
in music, in daily life?
I imagine in certain ways.
For example, when I was in prison in Italy in 1960,
there wasnít one person who spoke one word of English in
the place, no books in English, and I was locked up by
myself Ė the first six months by myself.
I wasnít allowed to speak to anyone.
You had no lawyer, nobody?
I had a lawyer, but I only saw him once before the
There were no jazz friends who could help you?
They couldnít see me; no one was allowed to see me.
I was seen as a very dangerous criminal and had to
be put in a cage and protected away from society.
But you never thought of committing suicide?
It had nothing to do with that.
Itís just hard for people to accept that there
might be some other people who just like to get high, you
know, and who are able to do it and handle it without
flipping out or doing something crazy, you know.
Anyway, I learned to speak Italian and I speak
pretty good Italian, because I had people from all over
Italy, Sardinia, Sicily, Rome, Naples, and the Lombard,
you see, Torino, people from everywhere.
So I was able to hear all the dialects and I played
a lot of chess and I had my horn with me and I had books
in the end from the outside, so I was cool.
I was there for about 15 months.
Thatís not long. I mean, I know several people whoíve done a lot of time.
Was that the only time or the longest time?
It was the longest time, but certainly not the only
then I had trouble in Berlin because I went to two doctors
within a 24-hour period, so they put me in the nuthouse
for 40 days and then they deported me to New York.
I had trouble in England.
I got deported from England to France and of course
I got into trouble all over the United States, but, like I
say, when those kind of things happen, you try not to be
just be patient, very patient.
Until whatever is happening, itís finished.
If itís one year, you learn to be patient.
when did all of these troubles start, in the Ď60ís
or in the Ď50ís?
GB: No, in 1957.
I was 27 years old.
And all the musicians that I thought were the
greatest musicians were into that, you know.
And I never messed with it for a long time.
All the time I was with Gerry Mulligan, I was
clean, but people thought I was doing something.
I always thought it happened after the death of
Thatís when it happened, in 1957, when I went back
to New York after he died.
Thatís when I started it and I kept that pretty
strong for about 13 years and then a judge in California
was very kind to me.
He could have given me five years like poor Art
Pepper, who got sent twice to San Quentin or some crazy
place like that, but the judge sent me to a sort of
guidance-center where they test you, psychological and
every way possible, t decide what to do with you.
And when I went back to court with the results of
the testing, he let me go.
He put me back on the street again.
Is that the only way that you can cure yourself?
CB: Thatís the only way.
And I did.
I got on the methadone program.
I was on it 7 years.
I started out at 8 milligrams, and little by little
I had to take the dosage down and down until I came to
Europe with just enough for two months and I made it last
for four and a half months.
And I just tapered out to nothing and stopped.
That means you are thinking a lot about why you use
this. Is it
because you canít bear the environment around you, all the
Yes, the people I had to do with were a drag, the
stuff that I got was never any good.
You know, you put all of that energy into the wrong
I decided almost too late to cut it loose.
Just to see if I could make it again after
everything. Kind of a challenge in a way, because after so much bad
publicity itís hard to get people to believe you.
But the bad publicity is publicity, donít forget
Yes, I know, but everybody reads that and youíd be
surprised how many people believe it Ė what they read. Not
people like you, people with some sophistication.
But all these people who are judges or judge these
persons, they are maybe drinking a lot of schnapps or beer
everyday and they donít think about that.
CB: Oh, but thatís all
right. Drugs are something out of the norm, that is really
to be feared, I guess. And there are a lot of people,
friends of mine, that didnít make it, who couldnít handle
it and it killed them.
So it comes to a point where you really have to
say, do you want to live or do you want to die and then
you make that choice and thatís it.
And whatís the reason why you want to live, to play
Thatís about the only thing Iím good for I guess.
Everybody has another task in his life.
Well, I donít know.
I have three fine children, so Iím cool in that
area and I love music and I put all my energy into it, you
really the only thing, aside from realizing that life is
really beautiful, itís wonderful to be alive, even for
just one more day.
When did you have these feelings?
I guess it was when I got out of prison last time
in California and the judge put me back on the street. You
see, he was a trumpet player, this judge, in college, so I
guess he had some knowledge of me and my problems and
didnít want to hurt me too badly.
And I just started thinking about it.
Then, when I moved to San Jose where my mother
lives and itís kind of rolling, green hills, I just walked
around every day for a couple of months.
You felt in harmony with Nature.
Yes, I finally realized a little bit, took the time
to think about a few things.
When was this?
This was in 1969, at the end of 1969.
And then you already had a family?
Yes I did.
I had the three children.
Did you always support your family or not?
CB: Well yes, but I was on
welfare in California for a couple of years and a year in
New York when I was unable to play.
And out of the sale of your records there wasnít
I never have gotten any royalties for any of my
Never a penny.
Hard to believe?
How is your contract today?
Today is a completely different thing, because Iím
involved with someone who worked for Creed Taylor, his
name is John Snyder.
You know itís a different thing.
I own the tapes with him. Itís my property;
whatever I record, I own it, and I lease it to him to
distribute. John is a wonderful man and heís been trying
to start his own company, working very hard for years. And
heís just getting it going.
Are you now recording for Artistsí House?
Yes, but not exclusively.
Iím dong an album this month in Paris with
Sonopress and Iím also going to record right after that
here in Germany, in Stuttgart. And then, when I get back
to New York, I have a couple of albums to make, so Iím
going to be really busy.
Do you know about the sales of maybe the first
thing you did again with Mulligan, the Carnegie Hall
I have no idea.
You see, Gerry Mulligan made that deal with Creed
Although I was the one with the contract with Creed
Taylor, Gerry somehow managed to exclude me from any
royalties for those albums.
And Creed agreed to it.
Thatís one of the reasons Iím not with Gerry
Mulligan any more.
there was a complete understanding in music.
In music, yes.
Not in the area of humanity?
CB: No, heís too nervous for
me. Heís so nervous he makes me nervous.
At the club, when we first started, there used to
be terrific arguments off the stage between Garry and
Chico Hamilton or Bob Whitlock and Gerry and myself and
all four of us. But when we got up on the stage to play,
it was finished. But when we got off, it might start again, but it was a very
unique group in as much as there was no piano and it left
a lot more open space.
The piano covers up a lot.
The piano is an orchestra itself and when youíre
playing behind an orchestra, sometimes you get lost in it.
But without it, everything was very clear and the
space was there and the feeling was there. Gerry wrote wonderful tunes. Heís a marvelous composer and
arranger, an incredible arranger.
But he arranged only three songs for his big band.
Yeah, maybe heís getting lazy in his old age.
Thatís a hard job.
If you have to keep together a big band, then you
donít have time to arrange.
Right, and Iím sure he put a lot of hours into
those three arrangements he did.
Is he slow in doing that?
I think he takes a lot more time than the average
Some guys can write an arrangement for a big band in three
or four yours, you know.
GE: You never did
donít know, by the time I make up my mind about something,
Iíve already thought of ten other ways it could be and
then after that I can never make up my mind how to put it
down and say, ďYes, thatís it, that way.Ē It could be just
as good another way, you know. I get all hung up with
the things you did with the big band or Paul
Desmond and Jim Hall, was this your idea to play with
these musicians or with the big band?
No, it was suggested by John Snyder. I donít know
if Creed TaylorÖCreed Taylor probably made the suggestion
and John talked to me about it.
The arrangements were all done by Don Sebesky, but
I mean they were wonderful musicians:
Bob James, the Concierto de Aranjuez album; and
then came the two Carnegie Hall albums and then I worked
for A&M and I made another one with Sebesky.
The new one, YOU CANíT GO HOME AGAIN?
Right, with Mike Brecker, John Scofield, Richie
Who chose which song to record?
I didnít choose anything.
GE: It doesnít matter to you
which songs you have to play?
Well, I know if itís going to be Don Sebesky itís
not going to be something too free.
I mean, itís going to be pretty.
Iím sure of that, because he has wonderful taste in
heís a good arranger.
They might have been just a shade over-arranged,
but it depends on where your audience is.
Whatís the group or the instrumentation you most
love to play with Ė just with the rhythm section, or
I can play with just a bass player, you know.
In fact, sometimes itís nice to do that.
Do you have a favorite song Ė MY FUNNY VALENTINE?
I donít know.
I donít really have a favorite song.
There are so many beautiful songs that it seems
ridiculous to say that one is prettier than another.
I wouldnít know what to say about a favorite song.
It doesnít matter if you play the same song every
night, like MY FUNNY VALENTINE?
Oh, I donít play it very often.
And if you get a request?
If I get a request, sure I play it.
You canít escape when you say you donít love to
No, thatís beautiful too, MY FUNNY VALENTINE.
Thatís one of those songs thatíll be here . . .
become, a what do they call it, a classic?
When you do a concert, are the songs for the
evening already fixed or is it just what kind of mood you
are in? Do
you decide on the stage?
Usually, I mean we have about 30 or 40 tunes we do,
so I know itís gonna be one of those.
Start out with a medium, then do a ballad, then a
bossa nova, and then something faster.
Then we have a couple of rock things we do. Weíre planning some tunes from Bud Powell, Richie Beirach,
Phil (Markowitz), our piano player.
We just havenít had time to plan or rehearse, we
were moving so fast.
Itís just a group you collected for the European
tour, this wasnít your American group?
Yes, itís my American group, but without the bass
player thatís supposed to be here.
And my whole library, the drummer left it sitting
on the street in Boston a few months ago and itís lost, so
we have no music, so it kind of limited us on this tour.
But when we come back in May weíll have everything
When you come back in May weíll arrange a concert.
Two years ago we waited and you didnít show up.
I tried but at that time I was still messing
And you didnít have the chance to do something . .
But thatís a nice concert hall.
I remember it very well.
The acoustics were good Ė thatís nice.
When you travel around, are you interested in
seeing some buildings or castles?
Sometimes we rent a car, but not very often and
sometimes, like in Koblenz, a man who was the head of the
jazz association, or whatever it is, picked us up the next
day in his Mercedes Benz and took us around to see a
castle here and a castle there and we ended up at his home
drinking wine from his cellar. We had a good time. That was fun.
Once you said when you donít play you are very
melancholy or sometimes depressed.
Is that still true?
CB: Oh yes, I think so
because I guess I must have been allowed by whatever it is
to survive this whole deal, because I was intended to
play, to entertain people.
So thatís what Iím gonna try to do.
When you entertain, you mean you get in
And so far weíve had a lot of communication in Germany Ė
in Frankfurt, in Cologne Ė we had so many people, I mean
you couldnít move.
But they always have us play in these tiny little
Maybe you have the wrong manager.
No, he didnít have anything to do with it.
Youíre not interested in playing music that is not
melodic, are you?
No, not really.
I can play free. For me itís easier to play free than the way we play, because
you have to play within certain boundaries.
And the trick is to be fresh and melodic within
those boundaries, so you can play any damned thing you
If you want to make noise, you can make noise.
Yes, you can do anything.
But those boundaries, itís just a technical aspect
of the music.
Well, a harmonic aspect, harmonic boundaries.
When we play we turn the rhythm around pretty good.
We have a nice drummer, Jeff Brillinger, who was
with ĎWoody Herman for a long time, but heís working with
me for a couple of years now.
So is Phil Markowitz.
And we have a bass player named John Burr, who was
with Stan Getz.
I havenít been in touch with him; he got a call
from Stan so he wanted to try that but he should be here
with us. Iím
mad at him.
When did you start to sing Ė before you started
playing trumpet or afterwards?
CB: Before, but not many
people know that.
Thatís what I thought about when I talked to you on
the íphone because the way you blow is the way you sing.
My dad was a musician but my mother wanted me to be
When I was about 12 or 13 she would drag me around to
these things Ė at that time in America we had talent
contests and things like that, you know.
Not just music Ė tap dancers, harmonica players,
accordion Ė and I got up there and I was very small for my
age and sang these ballads with a high little voice.
I never did win. I came in second once to a girl tap dancer.
You never expected you could make a career as a
No, I never thought about it too much.
I was too busy being a kid.
Maybe after the thing happened where they beat out
your teeth and you werenít able to play the trumpet Ė
didnít you have the thought: ďMaybe I could do it?Ē
No, it never occurred to me that I could get by
only by singing, because most people still donít think of
me as a singer.
But you think of yourself as a singer?
I can perhaps sing better than I play, I think.
It comes easier.
Itís much more easy for me to do, because Iím not
too big. I
weigh about 135 pounds and itís not very much to play
trumpet, because I have a very big trumpet Ė itís almost
as hard to play as a flugelhorn.
And why did you choose the big one Ė because of the
Because of the voice that it has.
It takes a lot of energy to get it, but itís worth
So you save energy when you sing?
Yes, itís much easier to sing.
I donít have to put out as much energy, except when
I scat. Iíve
been doing quite a bit of scatting and that takes more
energy because I never scat the same way twice.
Itís just like playing.
You try to always find a different way of saying
it, a different way of phrasing it thatís melodic and, oh
Ė I donít know exactly how to say it.
And sometimes it moves so quickly that itís hard to
be able to hold it.
Youíll see tomorrow night.
You can actually see that itís more difficult when
You can see itís a lot harder work, but itís fine.
When you say you think about it doesnít it come a
lot of time out of your unconsciousness in the moment you
Well, you have an instant to find that idea, just
an instant, you know.
And then itís time to get the idea out in time and
at the end of that phrase, of that idea, you have an
instant to find where youíre going to go next and you try
to hit that note right on the head. Youíll see.
Does Europe have a special meaning for your career?
Itís very strange, but I could work in Europe, I
think, year íround.
But in the states, itís
quite different because I donít play Las Vegas, although I
donít know why because Iíve been told that the groupís
appeal is such that it could be utilized in a lot nicer
atmosphere, nicer rooms.
But then you wouldnít be playing for the people
what know what you are doing.
Youíd be playing for people that just have a lot of
money. So we
stay in the jazz clubs and we work in New York every three
or four months for a week and the rest of the time. . . .
You have no college concerts?
Well, there are a lot of college concerts, but so
far I havenít been able to find anybody to connect me with
them, you know.
I guess Iím not big enough.
I thought you still had a big name?
I donít know.
Iíd like to play at colleges, just to play for the
younger people because those are the people I need to get
Iíll have an opportunity in the next year.
James is going to work on it.
I just met James a few months ago and heís got all
the right qualities and the aggressiveness, the energy, I
think, to help me a lot, because I donít have that. I donít want to get involved in that aspect of it.
Back to Europe.
Would you say you have had the saddest moments of
your life here?
No, I wouldnít say that at all.
Actually, I havenít had Ė except in Italy and I
made a vacation out of that.
In England and in Germany, they didnít want to hurt
me too badly.
I think they were just trying to protect me.
Thatís a very nice way of saying it.
Well, I believe that, because they only held me for
a short time and then they sent me out of the country.
I donít think itís right that they should make me
stay out for 15 years, though. I mean, I didnít exactly rob the First Berlin National Bank.
All I did was go to two doctors.
Itís ridiculous. But anyway, thatís over.
What are your hopes for the future.
When you say future, future can mean different
things to different people, depending on how old you are.
Iím almost 50 Ė Iíll be 49 this month.
Iíve never had a home.
Iíd like to be able to perform, to entertain people
and to earn, to be able to find some place to sit down
when Iím too old to play anymore.
I figure I probably have maybe another ten years of
But donĎt you think the music of the last ten years
is so loud and aggressive that people have a longing for
pretty and quiet and melodic music?
Well, I would imagine so.
I would think theyíd be getting tired of the disco
beat, but the kids like to dance and thatís cool.
Thereís not only music for dancing.
There is so much bad music and I think that the
people that play it over the air and keep cramming it down
everyoneís throat are really the ones that are hanging up
things the most.
But then I guess they only reflect the taste of the
majority of the people.
But when people are young, letís face it, they just
donít know whatís happening.
If they donít get exposed to something. . . . .
Theyíll never know if they donít get exposed to it.
Theyíll never be able to make a decision to say,
ďHey, thatís nice too.Ē
You have the same things here on the air, I
noticed, as the majority of the stations in the States
That doesnít mean they always are doing this.
They always try to produce jazz programs, beautiful
Well, that may be in a city like Stuttgart, but,
for example, where we played in Schongau the promoter of
the concert told me the mayor of the town helped them out
on the first jazz concert in a financial way or in some
way because it was jazz.
We were the second one.
After the first one, the city withdrew itís support
because it was jazz.
They said anything classical but if itís jazz music
we wonít help you.
Now that is strange, you know.
What can you say about it, that jazz music is not
They donít know.
I know they donít know.
God bless them.
CONVERSATION WITH DAVE BRUBECK
November 8 & 9, 1994
our surprise when we called the Brubeck offices to arrange
a time for the interview as instructed and a male voice
ďIím sorry, (Iolaís) not in, but this is Dave, may I help
was only the beginning.
When we congratulated him on his induction into the
Down Beat Hall of Fame, he said, ďWhat?Ē We repeated the news and he asked, ďWhy didnít they tell me?Ē
It was deja-vu all over
1990 when we first talked to Chetís widow, Carol Baker,
she was unaware that Chet had been inducted in 1989.
Brubeck made the cover of
TIME Magazine on November 8, 1954, and was the proverbial
overnight sensation; although his first commercial
recording was released in 1949.
The TIME article heralded ďthe New Jazz Age,Ē noted
Brubeckís success on college campuses, and spotlighted Ė
complete with photographs Ė other leaders in West Coast
Jazz, who TIME referred to as ďModernists:Ē
Chet Baker, Gerry Mulligan, Stan Getz, and Shorty
Rogers. Despite the article's accolades, many critics did not agree.
Whether his commercial success or his innovations
with counter-rhythm were the reasons, many critics
discounted Brubeckís music, we can only guess.
Today, the critics are recognizing his unique
contributions both as a composer and performer.
Gene Lees, respected author
and jazz critic, writes about his first response to
Brubeckís music in the Ď50ís, ď. . . I was intimidated by
those I thought must know more than I, keeping an
uncourageous silence about Daveís playing, though I always
recognized his gifts as a composer.Ē
He continues, ďListening to the Sony reissue (TIME
SIGNATURES, a 4 CD retrospective of Daveís recordings) I
made the rediscovery of one of the most interesting and
individual piano players jazz has produced.
The public was right; the critics were wrong.
Dave Brubeck, part Modoc Indian, is one of the
great jazz musicians.Ē (According to Dave, ďGene insists that the Indian on the
buffalo nickel is proof enough.
Actually, Iím not positive of this heritage.
If itís true, Iím proud of it.Ē)
Gene Leeís book, JAZZ, BLACK
AND WHITE, CATS OF ANY COLOR, New York, Oxford Press,
1994, is the third collections of essays from his
Newsletter, JAZZLETTER, to be published.
The book is a treasure trove of information for
jazz fans, with pieces on musicians:
Dave Brubeck, Horace Silver, Red Rodney, Benny
Golson, et al.
The chapter, ďJazz Black and White,Ē is a sensitive
and much needed discussion on the anti-white bias in jazz.
Brueck has always hated
racism and Lees reports that in World War II Dave
organized the first integrated military jazz band.
This was no USO show packaged in the states;
Dave was a regular enlisted man stationed in
night before he was to go on a very dangerous mission to
knock out German guns that were shelling the American
troops, he and three others were ordered to organize a
band. Most of
the musicians had been in battle and won Purple Hearts
which they wore while playing gigs near the front lines.
Dave stayed with the band for the rest of the war.
carried a Bible and a copy of Spenglerís DECLINE OF THE
WEST in his backpack during the war.
Lees found Daveís heavily underlined copy of the
Spengler in Bartís used bookstore on Ojai, California.
The next day was the Brubeckís wedding anniversary.
Lees and the bookstore owner gave the book to Dave
and Iola as an anniversary gift.
Dave was delighted to receive the treasured book
which had mysteriously disappeared then miraculously
(Hope these teasers will inspire you to get Lees book;
itís a wonderful read.)
collaboration with Paul Desmond produced some of jazzís
most beautiful music, and one of the most paradoxical
relationships in the history of the genre.
Fire and Ice, Oil and Water Ė most any metaphor of
opposites could apply.
Ramsey wrote the 40 page liner notes for TIME SIGNATURES,
the CD collection which Lees credits for his critical
revision of Daveís work as a jazz pianist.
Ramsey tells about how the Dave Brubeck Quartet
with Paul Desmond almost didnít happen.
Paul was leading a group with Dave on piano at the
Band Box in Palo Alto when he accepted a short gig in
Feather River, promising to re-join the group.
Paul didnít return as promised and Dave, who had
Iola and two small kids to support, ended up taking a gig
for scale which also provided housing Ė a corrugated tin
The heat was so intense they had to get out during the
that for unforgettable ď Following the ďshort gigĒ Desmond
took a job with Jack Finaís band, then he went on the road
with Alvino Rey.
ďtin shackĒ engagement, things began to happen for Daveís
heard one of the recordings and wanted to join Daveís
According to Ramseyís recounting by Iola, Paul shows up at
the Brubeckís house asking to talk with Dave.
ďíÖIola urged Dave to see Paul who said, ďíIf
youíll just let me play with you, Iíll babysit, Iíll wash
The partnership, which lasted until Paulís death, was
established with a handshake.
spoke with Brubeck, he had just returned from playing in
two jazz festivals Ė one in San Francisco and a second in
He was delighted that his music has gained positive
critical recognition after all these years. The festivals were reunions and reaffirmations.
Betty Little: What
about the festivals?
Brubeck: In San Francisco, Gerry Mulliganís Quartet and my
Quartet played, then Gerry and I
duet. At the
end, we did a piece where my bass player and drummer came
out. At the
Redondo Beach Jazz Festival, Gerry played one night, and
we played two nights later. The Redondo Beach Festival was kind of a tribute to the West
Coast jazz people who were still around.
It was very successful.
ironic that in theí50ís the critics more or less put down
West Coast jazz, but the public liked
Now the critics are beginning to understand West Coast
jazz and are giving you, Paul, Gerry, Chet and a lot of
others their due.
itís just starting to happen. Did you see the new Gene Leeís book?
I have it.
Iím impressed that you seem to be an atypical jazz man. Youíve been very successful.
You go on the road, but you have very close family
ties. How did
you manage that?
a lot of credit goes to my wife, and I also planned a lot
of things where I took my two oldest sons with me. In 1958, we played all over Europe and then we went behind
the Iron Curtin, and played in Poland and Turkey.
Then I had to send the kids home because the State
Department didnít want them to go into some areas that
were not so secure like Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, and
some other places.
seem so laid back Ö such a comfortable person but in World
War II Gene Leesí book describes how you were really in
the thick of things.
I enjoyed reading the wonderful story about how he
got your book back.
you mind commenting on some of the recordings listed in
the Down Beat
YOU, JUST ME.
surprised that everybodyís loving it, even the critics.
BL: LATE NIGHT.
NIGHT I like, and the next album out is a sequal to LATE
gonna be called JAMMINí AT THE BLUE NOTE, and will be
coming out in March of next year.
(This CD was released as NIGHTSHIFT)
BL: TRIO BRUBECK
with Danny and Cris (Brubeckís sons).
Boy I like that album.
Thatís really a great four CD box. Doug Ramsey did the notes and heís doing the notes on JAMMINí
AT THE BLUE NOTE (NIGHTSHIFT).
WINE DB: Thatís with
the symphony orchestra up in Canada at Montreal.
Yeah, thatís a nice album.
BL: MOSCOW NIGHT.
thatís really a dynamite album. I think Iím playing really at my peak in ďTritonis.Ē
BL: BLUE RONDO.
DB: Yep, good.
BL: FOR IOLA.
DB: Yeah, good
BL: ALL THE THINGS
Thatís really a far out album.
OUT. Do you
ever get tired of playing ďTake Five?Ē
Any tune you play differently every night.
If you get tired of playing it itís because youíre
BL: Well, I
thought maybe you had played it a hundred million times.
that doesnít make any difference.
BL: GONE WITH THE
thatís a nice album.
BL: JAZZ GOES TO
BL: DAVE DIGS
DB: They just
re-released it on CD and there are two new tracks that I
forgot I ever recorded.
JAZZ AT OBERLIN.
DB: OBERLIN is
BL: JAZZ AT THE
COLLEGE OF THE PACIFIC.
DB: PACIFIC is
really good, too.
BL: Did they leave
out any of your favorites?
there would be a lot of other things.
I think I made 108 albums.
wondered why they left out the 1975 DUETS album with Paul.
We have always been fascinated because you and Paul
seemed to have such different personalities, yet the
musical marriage was just great.
DB: Yeah, it
worked very well right through his last concert with me
and my sons.
BL: We certainly
were amazed at your tolerance in the early Ď50ís when you
agreed to work with Paul.
BL: Were you
I was. You
had to have a lot of patience with Paul.
BL: It sounded as
though Mrs. Brubeck was very good with people and
relationships and helped you two over the rough spots.
DB: Yeah, right.
In terms of your musical influences, who comes to
DB: Oh, I think my
mother, brothers and everybody I heard.
BL: Are there any
artists you listen to a lot?
Waller, Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Stan Kenton, Bix
Biderbeck, of course Louie Armstroong and Duke Ellington Ė
all the pioneers I listen to.
were fascinated to learn that you didnít read music that
well and you were a senior music major in college when
some faculty discovered it.
Could you say a bit about that?
Iíve known quite a few guys, and Chet was one of them,
that didnít read that well.
I met Chet when he was about 18 years old.
When he was in the Army in San Francisco he used to
come and sit in.
That was before heíd met Charlie Parker or Gerry or
anybody, so Iíd known him probably earlier than most
people you associate Chet with.
Iíd say, ďChet , what do you want to play?Ē
Heíd say, ďOh, anything.Ē
Iíd suggest a tune and Iíd ask, ďWhat key?Ē and
heíd say , ďOh, you just start.Ē
I started realizing he didnít think in terms of key
or think in terms of the way most other musicians thought.
He was just totally natural.
So youíd start a tune and heíd come in right after
the introduction or the first few bars.
I would say he was the most natural musician I have
ever been around.
BL: How was Chet
to work with?
Doug Ramseyís notes for TIME SIGNATURES, he writes that
when you studied with Milhaud he encouraged you to do it
your own way.
BL: What do you
remember most about him?
he was absolutely for me being a jazz musician.
He thought any American composer should use the
jazz idiom, or he wouldnít express his culture. He was the first one to use jazz in classical music, called
ďCreation of the World.Ē
There is a good Bernstein recording on Columbia.
Have you been influenced by jazz gospel blues?
yeah. I think
one of the most wonderful things in American music is
spirituals, gospel music.
Itís been a favorite of mine.
I used to listen in the Ď40ís to a radio station in
Alameda, California, near Oakland and San Francisco.
I loved that station, and to this day I love
Mahalia Jackson Ė I
knew her and her pianist (Mildred Falls), I loved her too.
There were gospel groups: The Mighty Clouds of Joy.
Oh God, I like them.
I think I was on tour with them maybe 30 years ago.
I like TAKE 6 now.
I think they are wonderful.
Oh yes, that group of young black men who sing a
do you enjoy listening to now in the current crop of jazz
Anybody there are so many great young pianists.
Harold Brown from Knoxville, James Williams.
They have an album out with four pianists, all of
them from Memphis.
I like that group very much.
Then Jessica Williams, sheís from California, she
Sheís so great.
Course I like all my contemporaries like George
Shearing, Oscar Peterson, Marian McPartland and Billy
is from North Carolina originally, Greenville.
Weíre real proud of him.
heís doing great.
BL: Are you doing
any composing now?
BL: Any other
do you schedule your life?
Do you have any particular pattern?
just the pattern to work whenever you can, wherever you
are. Donít say, ĎOh, I canít do this, Iím on an airplane
or a train.í
It takes a lot of discipline because itís a lot more fun
to watch a football game sometimes Ö
BL: What is your
usual work week, in terms of your expectations of
day itís full.
Right now there are 20 projects screaming to be
Youíre going to Alabama on Friday.
Weíll be doing one of my religious oratorios.
do you choose your material? Your recordings are so varied Ė originals, standards, movies
and show tunes.
How do you go about choosing what you want to do?
is no pattern.
Somebody will come backstage and say, ĎWould you
write such and such?í
Like the piece I just finished.
Itís a cello concerto Ė that is about the closest
thing I can tell you.
I wrote it for my son, Matthew who is a cellist.
Itís for multiple cellos, four to twenty.
Heís doing this solo part which calls for
For the cellist who
doesnít improvise, Iíve written out the cadenza and
If my son is playing it he will switch back and forth
between what is written and improvisation because he is
like the early cadenzas before everything was written down
in classical music. You expect the soloist to be able to improvise like a jazz
didnít realize that.
Mozart and pre-Mozart, always left room for the artistís
BL: I always
thought that was so structured
Almost everybody thinks that, but itís not true at all.
Speaking of unexpected improvisation, why did Paul Desmond
sometimes sign autographs ĎChet Bakerí? (Pause) Do you
did once in a while.
I never quite figured that out.
He had a great sense of humor.
That's typical of him.
Lees quotes Paul as saying, ďI spent seventeen years
trying to get Dave Brubeck laid.íĒ
DB: Yeah, again
BL: Did Paul kind
of liven things up with stuff or was he irritating (pause)
you think Thelonious Monkís work and yours have any
similarities other than being piano players and
Paul always thought there were great similarities.
I never listened to Thelonious when I was on the
West Coast and rarely had time to really follow his music.
I hear a lot more of it now that heís gone and itís
really advanced and really wonderful.
I once had dinner with
Thelonious and did a duet with him.
Itís on a Columbia album with different artists on
It was called SUMMIT SESSION.
But at dinner, Thelonious didnít say a word to
either my wife or myself.
So I think itís one of the most memorable dinners
Iíve ever had. Silence is golden.
BL: There were
just the three of you and he said nothing?
DB: It was his
BL: Did she
DB: Yeah, but he
was the one who invited me.
Thatís a wonderful memory.
He was in Charlotte in the Ď60ís with Buddy Rich
He played beautifully.
But in the middle of things he would get up, walk
around, look at the back of the stage, then come back and
play. He was
DB: To say the
least, but so talented.
think itís wonderful Ė you mentioned that now that heís
gone heís getting recognized.
I think itís so wonderful that you are being
acknowledged now, and that you are continuing to work.
Do you work with John Snyder (the producer) very
DB: Yes, we go
back years to the DUETS album with Paul and even before
started trying to get the newsletter together and finally
found Chetís widow who said she would support us. Doug Ramsey put us in touch with John Snyder since he had
been Chetís manager and producer.
John and I played telephone tag for over a year and
then he wrote me a letter and said, ďBetty, Iím going to
be in Charlotte (thatís twenty miles up the road from my
Call me there.
I had no idea he was from North Carolina.
DB: Yeah, his wife
BL: Do you have a
concluding comment about Chet?
Iíve ever known somebody who really didnít let all his
talent develop it would be Chet.
As much as he did, he could have done much more,
and Iím saying that in a complementary way.
24, 1995, Dave wrote: ďI have just completed a recording
which John Snyder produced for Telarc. (DB DAVE BRUBECK
Young Lions & Old Tigers)
It features a series of guest artists.
One of the best tracks is with Roy Hargrove, who
reminds me a bit of Chet in the way he approaches
BRUBECK, AN EXTRAORDINARY MAN AND MUSICIAN
willingness to talk with CHETíS CHOICE demonstrates his
generosity of spirit, egalitarianism, and support for
music no matter how small the enterprise.
December 1994 issue of Down Beat lists some of the
accolades which have come to Brubeck in the last forty
years: A star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; Six honorary
doctorates; The National Music Councilís American Eagle
Award; The BMI Jazz Pioneer Award; Induction into the
PLAYBOY Magazineís Jazz Hall of Fame; as well as the Down
Beat Hall of Fame; and the White House has announced
Brubeck as the recipient of the 1994 National Medal of
Many of the musicians from the Golden Age of Jazz have
died in the last decade.
We are fortunate to have Brubeck composing,
performing and showing us all how to live the good life.
Note Ė As well as those albums noted in the article Dave
Brubeck is also on Marian McPartlandís PIANO JAZZ with
guest Dave Brubeck on Jazz Alliance; a two disc JAZZ
COLLECTION CD from Columbia and a two disc reissue CD of
the LIVE AT THE BERLIN PHILHARMONIC with Gerry Mulligan
which includes seven tracks either not issued or issued
only in Europe.
All three of these should be on every jazz lovers
list of musts.
We cannot remember if
it was Doug Ramsey or someone else who told it but the
story is that anytime a fan addressed Paul as ĎMr.
Brubeckí Dave asked that he sign that autograph ĎChet
Paul Desmondís proclivity for playing Chet Baker solos
note-for-note from Chetís records, it makes a good story.