I’ve told my two Dave Brubeck stories here before (I’m pretty sure) but it still can’t hurt to tell them again especially today, when he left us just one day shy of his 92nd birthday.
One of the earliest friends I made in college was a serious jazz aficionado and introduced me to several artists. We were in separate dorms freshman year but he and his roommate moved into the one where I was in sophomore year, just down the hall. Our building was located right next to the dining hall and, for reasons I can’t recall, I got into the habit of eating early, getting his room key from him when he went to dinner and going in and putting the legendary Take Five, which the Brubeck Quartet made a signature of their, on the turntable and lying there in the dark listening to Dave and Paul Desmond, who wrote the piece, “talking” to one another back and forth from piano to sax. Come to think of it, that was more ritual than habit and one of my enduring memories.
Six or seven years later, during my brief excursion into the dark domain that is corporate life after I finished graduate school, I was the magazine editor the PR Department of a large insurance company which, some eight months into my time there, took 250 agents and their families (roughly 750 people including kids) to the original Disneyland in Anaheim for a four day conference. As part of the event, my think-outside-the-box boss brought in a raft of guest speakers who had nothing to do with insurance at all, the likes of Allan Dulles (the first civilian to head the CIA, then retired), Casey Stengel and…Dave Brubeck.
I was part of the team that flew out to run the event, theoretically just to observe so I could put together and issue of the magazine I edited for agents in its aftermath. In practice, since there weren’t nearly enough of us, I ended up working at all the crap jobs like all the other flunkies. So it was that, on the evening that Brubeck spoke and then played the piano for the crowd, I got to chatting with him after all was finished. We wandered outside the hotel pool and when he said he could use a drink, I excused myself, went up the top floor room which I and one of the other guys had claimed as our own, mostly because it had a bar which we had immediately filled by the Disneyland folks, and grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniels. Took it back downstairs and Brubeck and I sat on the edge of the pool, feet dangling the water and passed the bottle back and forth while talking about music and politics and religion and lord knows what else for a couple of hours under a full moon sky.
It would be presumptuous to call him a friend based on that single conversation, no matter how it sticks in my mind, but I think I’ll take the leap anyway,
Goodbye, old friend, you were one of the greats.