by JD -
Dave Brubeck was the guy on the sleeve of my Dad’s records. He was the guy with the bulky glasses. A nerd who swung.
Dave Brubeck was the guy with the modern art on the cover. The guy who played piano but made me want to play drums.
Dave Brubeck was an old man in a golf cart. He rolled across the soggy lawn at the Goshen Fairgrounds to meet me. I was the guy who was supposed to interview him.
Dave Brubeck needed help getting up on stage, so I helped him. I was the guy who was scared to death, so he helped me. It was the Litchfield Jazz Festival in 2008.
My parents, whose record collection I had made my own, were watching in the audience. I started talking to this man – who didn’t really seem real – about the things he’d done. About how he could’ve been a rancher, or a vet. About how he was a soldier with a piano and a band. A band that let black guys and white guys play together in the Army. That was something that didn’t happen during World War Two.
About how his quartet used to go to clubs in the South, and how the club owners didn’t like the fact that that band was integrated too, and how he’d say “no thank you” to those gigs.
About how his quartet got another gig, to go to Europe and Asia in the middle of a cold war, to go behind the “Iron Curtain” and play for people who wanted freedom or at least a few hours of the freedom of jazz.
About how some places he wanted to play, he’d have to make a choice – because the people who’d come to hear him might get thrown in jail or worse.
He said those Poles thought he was heaven sent.
”They understood what they should be striving for to have this freedom.”
We finished that talk, and he left in the golf cart, and I smiled and took a deep breath.
He played that night and swung.
He died today and lived a life that you can’t make up.