If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that He Who Will Not Be Ignored is named after Miles Davis. What you may not know is that I’m named after Dave Brubeck. As friends sent me condolence emails after his passing last week, I was reminded that my family has its own Brubeck story.
When my parents met my father was a working jazz pianist in Waterbury, CT. He, like many of his fellow musicians, had latched onto Brubeck after he released Jazz Goes to College. He had established a new style: cool, but not in the west coast Stan Getz mode, instead emphasizing more cerebral compositions and soloing. Look at Brubeck’s famous quartet, they could easily pass for a bunch of Brooklyn hipsters today:
My Dad, a fan of George Shearing’s block chord style, correctly heard that same influence in Brubeck’s playing. He studied his compositions, particularly the solo piano featured in Brubeck Plays Brubeck. I discovered the sheet music for that set years later, and quickly learned the meaning of “deceptively simple” – I could play the notes, but I couldn’t swing them.
In the fall of 1959 Brubeck toured in support of his groundbreaking Time Out record. Dad managed to score a pair of front row seats for the performance at Yale University. Due to various complications, he and my very pregnant mother managed to arrive just minutes before starting time, only to discover that their seats had been resold as no-shows.
While dad argued with the theatre staff, Brubeck walked on stage to do a final check on the piano’s tuning. He noticed the distressed couple and asked what the problem was. The staffer sheepishly informed him that the seats had been resold, which didn’t sit well with Mr. Brubeck.
“You sold a pregnant woman’s seat? How are you gong to fix that?”
“We don’t know, there are no other seats available. The show’s sold out.”
“Then they can sit here,” Brubeck said, pointing to a spot on the stage behind his piano.
And so it came to pass that my parents wound up with the best seats in the house, sitting in the wings just behind Dave Brubeck. Mom claims that not-quite-born me was the most active she had ever felt, kicking up a storm for the entire show.
As for my name, that had actually been decided months before. If I was a girl, I would be named Alice, but if I was a boy I would be David. Dad had lobbied hard for Stanley, after his other jazz idol Stan Kenton, but offered David as an alternative. He won’t admit to it, but I suspect Dad employed a magician’s force, wanting David all along. (I should be grateful he wasn’t a fan of sax player Zoot Sims.)
So that’s the story. I try to imagine my unborn self kicking out a 9/8 to “Blue Rondo à la Turk” and smile. When my sister had to choose music for her senior choreography final she picked “Take Five.” The piece is still talked about at the school (and by a troupe of thoroughly confused dancers).
Make the time to give that record another listen, it’s probably next to your copy of Kind of Blue and Giant Steps. I’m currently rediscovering the melody of “Strange Meadow Lark.”