MEETING MR. BRUBECK AGAIN
Dave Brubeck and Keith Emerson, 24 September 2009
photo: Mari Kawaguchi
Very occasionally I get to meet some of MY musical heroes. A recent occasion was on September 24, 2009 at Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts in Southern California where Dave Brubeck played with his quartet. Alto and Flute: Bobby Militello; Drums: Randy Jones; Bass: Michael Moore.
To say the bands entrance caused a wonderful reception was to be expected only to be exceeded by the great man walking to the piano. He started with a Duke Ellington medley with the quartet and just went on from there so much so that his first set went overtime. Dave sometimes approached 90 MPH at the keyboard, probably trying to beat his approaching age of the same number. Although this never interfered with his thoughtful improvisations that had all the fire- his sensitivity could bring you to tears. Occasionally chuckling at Michael Moore’s change of root note that just came at the same time as another Brubeck invention a look of discovery on both their smiling faces spoke of another discovery until Bobby just blew fluid. His notes had me thinking as a member of the audience that if I played sax I’d have played that too.
When I was 15 years old I was going through further education in Sussex, England. My mother and father earned little and my meager earnings from a newspaper and grocery round were put towards a stereo record player. That Christmas, my present from Mum and Dad was a single 45 vinyl record. "Take Five". On the B-side was "Blue Rondo a la Turk". I played the hell out of it.
In 1968, I recorded a 4/4 version of Blue Rondo and played the hell out of it in live performance.
I'd first met Dave Brubeck 6 years ago, in 2003 when he played The Dome, in Brighton, Sussex, England. I didn't think he'd know who I was. He stood up saying, "Keith, don’t spin around on the piano it’s very dangerous." He signed a publication of his transcribed solos with the words, "For Keith, with many thanks for your 4/4 version which I can't play." Obviously he was referring to his "Blue Rondo a la Turk" that he wrote in his time signature of 9/8. With his sense of humor it was obvious he could play it in 4/4 but wouldn't want to play it in any time other than his own.
It was therefore an honor for me to meet the great man again in the interval at his concert and for him to greet me with, "Keith, please tell me how did you manage to spin around on that piano?"
"Don’t try it Dave! It’s very dangerous". We laughed a lot.
We chatted for a bit and while Mari had her music book signed, I spoke with Russell Gloyd- Dave's conductor of 20 years and more. Not only is he knowledgeable in all the classics he is very, and rightfully protective of Dave Brubeck having conducted many orchestrated concerts involving them both. While this was going on I learned later that when Mari pointed out a particular manuscript to the composer, he told her, "...that's difficult. I can't play that." I was sorry I didn't get that on film mainly because Mari knew that he really could play it. But I can't let go the fact that all the members of his quartet, while holding their own, bowed in his direction. They're all great guys.
The second set was even more stunning with Randy Jones taking at least a five-minute drum solo over "Take Five". The quartet left the stage. The audience were on it's feet begging more.
Finally the great man came back out and settled himself to play "Show Me The Way To Go Home".
Alto sax and Flute: Bobby Militello; Drums: Randy Jones;
Bass: Michael Moore; Piano: Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck Website
The hotel was right across from The Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts where the great man, on his own, was walking. He turned. "Keith, where is the elevator?"
We directed him to it as I asked after his wife Iola.
"Can you believe it?" he said.
"She made it all the way through the tour and decided to get sick at the end."
We directed him into the elevator while wishing Iola well.
As the doors closed he bowed towards Mari.
and the elevator doors closed.
What a Gentleman!
What an Icon!
- Keith Emerson