- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

At 82, Dave Brubeck is as upbeat as his music and keeps a schedule that might defeat a man half his age. Two days before last week’s two-night stand at the Library of Congress, he was performing with his quartet at

a high school in Connecticut not far from his home. Then on Saturday the pianist, composer, educator, and cultural ambassador performed at Oberlin College in Ohio; Oct 16 marks the start of yet another European tour.

What drives him?

“Ha,” comes a laugh over a cell phone while riding in a car to Washington for only his second visit here in two years. “Playing gives me energy,” he says, going on to tell how exhilarated the group felt after the Sept. 28 gig in Connecticut before coming to the District. “One of the best concerts we ever played,” he calls it.

Yes, he says, they played one of their signature pieces, “Take Five,” composed by the late saxophonist Paul Desmond. The two men met as Mills College graduate students in the late 1940s under the tutelage of composer Darius Milhaud and formed an octet. Later, the still-famous Dave Brubeck Quartet would change their lives and the direction of jazz in this country. The original group was formed in 1958 and disbanded in 1967.

“We look forward to it every night,” Mr. Brubeck states unabashedly of playing “Take Five.” “Last night [in Connecticut] it was so far out.”

A benefit for a high school band? “I feel just the other way around,” he replies. “They were doing me a favor, because we had a great time with the students and their parents and a lot of great fans. Amazing acoustics. One musician came backstage and said the acoustics were the best he ever heard.”

Apparently, accepting such dates is not unusual for his group composed now of drummer Randy Jones, saxophonist/flutist Bobby Militello, and bassist Michael Moore. An associate says Mr. Brubeck takes his living legend mantle with a grain of salt and tries to work in such requests as often as possible. What’s another honor against the opportunity to energize young people with music and bring new audiences to jazz?

Tuesday’s session at the Library of Congress was a master class and jazz lesson co-sponsored by the Levine School of Music that brought together the fellows of the Brubeck Institute Sextet along with eight young Levine students. No one on stage was more than 17, with the exception of Christian McBride, the artistic director of the California-based Brubeck Institute — an engaging and accomplished 31-year-old bassist.

On Wednesday, during performances by both the sextet and Mr. Brubeck with his fabled quartet, the library recognized him formally as one of the key figures in American cultural life with the institution’s own Living Legend Award, putting the jazz master in a league with such past recipients as Hank Aaron, Yo-Yo Ma, Bob Hope and others. There were packed houses and multiple standing ovations both nights. Audiences were coached Tuesday in the musical roots of jazz and treated Wednesday to some mystical moments of reverie with such spirited tunes as “I Got Rhythm,” Duke Ellington’s “Take the A Train,” and, of course, “Take Five.”

Dave and Iola Brubeck’s home is in Wilton, Conn., where they moved in order to preserve a semblance of family life, but Mr. Brubeck manages to return to California (he was born on a ranch near Concord) two or three times a year on top of his other travels. The couple has six children, from the ages of roughly 48 to 56, all of them musicians, although one has dropped out to train horses and another to raise children. Four of his sons played with him and the London Symphony on his 80th birthday, he volunteers. “And we were hired back for my 85th.”

“He’s a cowboy, the least celebrity-like person you will ever meet,” associate George Moore explains. He has a keyboard in front of his home exercyle so that he can practice scales while he pushes the pedals. He swims for a half hour daily. The regimen helps the back that was hurt when he dived into a sandbar in Hawaii in the late 1940s. He stoops a bit when he stands, but any physical difficulty seems to disappear the minute he sits down, smiling, at the piano.

His favorite subject of conversation is praise for the Brubeck Institute, an all-purpose archive and educational forum founded in 2000 at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., his alma mater, and supported by contributions from the likes of Clint Eastwood, the institute’s honorary chairman.

“It’s grown so quickly that we can’t believe it,” Mr. Brubeck says. “They use the conservatory at the university and the students [who receive one year full scholarships for undergraduate study] live on campus. Last year they played at the Monterey Jazz Festival, their first job, and did wonderfully.”

If Mr. Brubeck ever thinks of mortality, he doesn’t indicate as much. “There is more going on now than ever in my life, more recordings, and more concerts,” he insists.

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