begins Winter Series at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall
For the past month, ever since his Dec. 5 death (a day before his 92nd birthday), musicians and fans the world over have been remembering the jazz giant Dave Brubeck with concerts, special radio and television programming, and other tributes. The reaction to his passing reflects, among other things, the fact that there probably wasn’t another artist who did more to thrust jazz into the mainstream consciousness than Brubeck. And there probably wasn’t another jazz number more influential than the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s breakthrough instrumental “Take Five,” whose offbeat time signature and silken, ethereal saxophone playing by Paul Desmond made it an improbable radio hit in 1961.
“That’s right,” says Steven Schrag. “I can’t think of another single piece in 5/4 time that made Top 40 radio.”
Schrag, whose own piano playing has enlivened many a Jazz Depot show, serves as producer of the Brubeck tribute show for the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. He’s happy to be honoring a man he counts as one of his major influences.
“Brubeck was a fantastic pianist and an inspiration to a lot of musicians who came after him,” says Schrag. “His music was at once both intelligent and accessible, and he popularized a lot of music with unique time signatures, like `Take Five.'”
A pianist, composer, and bandleader, Brubeck began piano lessons at the age of 4. By the time he was 14, he was playing weekend gigs with dance bands around his family’s California ranch. He continued performing in clubs, working his way through college as a musician before serving in the European Theatre during World War II.
Although he worked with both an octet and trio beginning in the late 1940s, after his discharge, his greatest fame came in the ’50s and ’60s with the Dave Brubeck Quartet, whose recordings – especially “Take Five” — and concerts on college campuses and elsewhere led to an increased American interest in jazz. The group made its first international tour in 1958. A year later, the album Time Out, featuring “Take Five,” became the first jazz album to sell a million copies.
“He was not only a great jazz player; he was a great person as well,” Schrag says, “For one thing, there was his time as a jazz ambassador, working with the U.S. State Department, performing all over the world.”
“When I was doing research on Brubeck for school projects, it was also very interesting to learn his approach to the strong currents of racial tension during that time period of the ’50s and ’60s,” Schrag adds. “I think he was very aware of and sensitive to all of that. He canceled several television shows when he found out they planned to keep his black player off camera. He had an integrated group then, and the cameras were going to be only on his white musicians. He wouldn’t allow that, so he canceled the shows. That was a noble thing to do. It took a lot of courage on his part.”
In addition to all his internationally known achievements, Brubeck had a longstanding connection with the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame. Along with receiving the Jay McShann Lifetime Achievement Award from the Hall in 2002, he was the honorary chairman of the Jazz Hall’s membership campaign for 2012, closing his letter to potential members by writing, “I ask you to continue to support America’s classical music – jazz-and continue to support the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, one of four arts institutions in this country dedicated to one of America’s true art forms – jazz.”
“We’re proud that Dave Brubeck’s commitment to spreading the gospel of jazz included supporting our efforts in Oklahoma and with the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame,” says Jazz Hall CEO Jason McIntosh. “He’s one of the key 20th Century figures to bring jazz to the people; he was a real ambassador for jazz and music all over the world, and he and his wife blessed so many people, not only with great performances, but with their friendship.”
“We’re going to try to honor his memory in the best way we can with this show,” adds Schrag. “We’ll have some of the best jazz pianists in Oklahoma, and some of the songs will be done by a combo, in much the same style as the famous quartet Dave Brubeck had.”
The Dave Brubeck Memorial Tribute Concert begins Sunday at 5 p.m. at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First St. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5. Refreshments will be available for purchase.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s Winter Concert Series.
The Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame is a 501(c)(3) non-profit cultural
and educational organization, with a mission to inspire creativity and improve
the quality of life for all Oklahomans through preservation, education,
and performance of jazz, our uniquely American art form.