(ed note: Lewis Saul's tribute to Dave Brubeck, who died last week, prompted this affectionate exchange between Jamie Katz and Lew, two musicians who know their stuff. I thought it worth highlighting since both raise important points. A big thank-you as well to Jamie for turning me on to Lionel Loueke, whom I've been listening to with much pleasure. Check him out! -- sdh)
December 11, 2012:
Thank you for this wonderful essay. Of course, as you know, you were the one who turned me on to what I still call the odd meters—how to hear them and think about them. Now we have artists such as Lionel Loueke routinely playing complex rhythms without any strain or feeling of unnaturalness and creating grooves that cook like 4/4. (You can go a whole week in New York jazz clubs without hearing 4/4 these days.) Loueke—who is originally from Benin—is a favorite of mine. After hearing him play at the Jazz Gallery in Manhattan a few years ago, I asked him if growing up with West African music had nourished his liking for polyrhythmic grooves and meters like 19/8. And he said, actually, it was more about Bartók and Stravinsky. I think possibly he said that to ward off any assumptions he thought I might have been making about his musical sophistication being "native." Black musicians have been dealing with that insulting assumption for a long time.
It took me a long time to come around to Brubeck. His popularity got in my way, as did the odd meters and my feeling that other pianists from his generation—such as Tommy Flanagan, Hank Jones, Ahmad Jamal and Bill Evans—were more deserving of acclaim. But that's stupid. As you also taught me, if you love steak, you can love chicken, too! I'm terribly glad I got to hear Brubeck when I could still enjoy him live, as I did at Damrosch Park in Lincoln Center three years ago. He was joyful! (And his alto player, Bobby Militello, is a motherfucker!)I was also influenced by stories I heard about Brubeck. When he became the first jazz artist on the cover of Time magazine, in 1954, he apologized (unnecessarily, but still appropriately) to Duke Ellington. And then there was the deeply moving clip Ken Burns included in his "Jazz" series. Brubeck, who grew up on a cattle ranch and served in Patton's Third Army during the war, was talking about racism.
“The first black man that I [ever] saw, my dad took me to see on the Sacramento River in California," Brubeck said. "And he said to his friend, ‘Open your shirt for Dave.’ ”
“There was a brand on his chest," Brubeck said, breaking down as he shared his horror, still fresh in mind some 60 years later. “And my dad said, ‘These things can’t happen.’ That’s why I fought for what I fought for.”
Brubeck was a mensch: a fine pianist, a beautiful composer, a musician's musician who somehow kept it going for generations, a generous friend and teacher—and a humble man, too.
I am grateful that you spent time with him, and have shared some of his goodness with me and many others.
-- Jamie Katz
December 12, 2012:
Jamie, you nailed two very important points.
First, Bartok and Stravinsky were doing things in odd meters in the first two decades of the 20th century -- at least 40 years before "Take Five."
What Bartok and Stravinsky is (obviously) infinitely more complex than ANY Brubeck tune ~ but Dave studied that music with Milhaud (who's no slouch with time sigs, either!) and TRANSMORGIFIED that dynamic to the jazz slash pop-music world -- and he did it with elan, polish and style.
And you were right (and brave) to admit that many many black pianists were ignored in the 60's while Dave basked in his Time Magazine cover glory. I think he felt much the same way as you did. He LOVED those guys and was most likely slightly embarrassed by all the (white)-media attention...
One more great example:
Check out Paul Simon's THE TEACHER from his CD "You're the One." In ELEVEN (6+5), but it sounds so perfectly natural and flowing that no one would think of it as an "odd" meter.
That's what I meant by following, but "trying to make sense of the past."
December 12, 2012:
One more salient point:
TAKE FIVE was recorded over a period of several weeks ~ perhaps 20-30 hours for composition, recording and editing.
TRUTH IS FALLEN (how many of you readers have ever heard it? [The LP is Out Of Print and there is no CD]).
Dave probably spent nearly 1,000 hours composing, COPYING (!), and rehearsing the massive combined forces for the performances and recordings.
The disconnect between "good" jazz and "this-is-good-for-you" classical is a deep, uncrossable chasm.