Click image to order
Never miss a post
Your email address:*
Please enter all required fields
Correct invalid entries


« "That will be interesting too" John Ashbery at the New School [by Philip Brunst] | Main | A perfect storm for revitalizing compassion for the natural world: Robert Hass and E. O. Wilson on Nature and Poetry [by Alissa Fleck] »

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, 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."


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.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)

click image to order your copy
That Ship Has Sailed
Click image to order
BAP ad
"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


  • StatCounter