Dave Brubeck: Three To Get Ready

6 Dec

Birthday greetings to pianist Dave Brubeck, who celebrates No. 91 today.

One of the advantages to growing older is the increased likelihood to have things named for you. Brubeck’s alma mater, the University of the Pacific (College of the Pacific when he matriculated before World War II), named The Brubeck Institute after Brubeck and his wife Iola; it includes the Brubeck Collection (of his music and correspondence) and the Brubeck Festival each spring, which normally features the Brubeck Jazz Quartet.

Irony is, one of the professors there tried to keep Brubeck from graduating not quite 70 years ago because Brubeck couldn’t read music, but only play it, according to Hedrick Smith’s story on pbs.org. 

“The piano teacher in my senior year figured it out in about five minutes.” Brubeck said, according to Smith. “And that piano teacher went right downstairs to the Dean and said, ‘That kid can’t read anything.’ And the Dean called me in and he said, ‘We can’t let you graduate with your class.’ And I said, ‘Okay.’ ”

According to Smith, it wasn’t OK with other teachers, who lobbied to allow Brubeck to graduate. “The ear training teacher went to (the Dean) and said, ‘You’re making a mistake. Brubeck’s one of my best students,’ ” Brubeck said, according to Smith’s account. “And the Dean called me back in and he said, ‘You know, I’ve heard some rather interesting reports on you. If you promise never to teach and embarrass the school, I’ll let you graduate with the class.’ And I said, ‘I promise, I’ll never teach.’ ”

Brubeck was 21 years and a day old, still in college, on Pearl Harbor Day. He graduated in 1942, married Iola and joined the army, making it to Europe in the days after D-Day.

“. . . we went to Verdun,” Brubeck told Ken Burns in an interview on pbs.org, “(and) if you (turned) left you’d be in (Omar) Bradley’s Army, if you (turned) right you’d be in (George) Patton’s Army.”

Brubeck turned right and was in Patton’s army; Smith wrote, “Music literally saved Brubeck’s life.”

“. . . a Colonel heard me play (piano) and he said, ‘This guy shouldn’t go to the front. We want to keep him here and form a band.’ ”

Brubeck’s wartime band was called The Wolfpack, and Brubeck told Burns, “It might have been the first integrated unit in World War II, and maybe in the Army . . .”

After the war Brubeck returned home, went to graduate school, met Paul Desmond, made the cover of Time Magazine, took off with Take Five (written by Desmond), and kept most of his promise to the dean. He never embarrassed the college, and he taught only by example.

A link to PBS’ Dave Brubeck IQ test below:

Dave Brubeck trivia

sources: pacific.edu, wikipedia.org, pbs.org

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