Fellows Look Back - Dave Brubeck: Five Great Recordings

Glenn Zaleski, a jazz pianist, composer and educator originally from Boylston, Mass., now living in Brooklyn, N.Y., and plays in the Mark Zaleski Band (http://www.markzaleskimusic.com/). He was a Brubeck Fellow in 2005-06 and 2006-07. (http://www.glennzaleski.com/index1.htm)

Remembering Dave Brubeck - Five Great Records

I first heard Dave Brubeck in 2000 when I was in the eighth grade. His quartet was playing in Worcester, Mass., at Mechanics Hall. This was the band with Bobby Militello, John Dankworth and Randy Jones. The concert was magic, with an explosive energy and focus. I was captivated throughout the whole concert in a way that I had never felt before. From that moment I was completely hooked on Dave's music: I bought every record that I could find, bought every LP that wasn't yet re-released on CD, learned every tune I heard him play. I really became a "superfan."

In 2005, after five years of study and practice inspired by Dave's music, I was honored to be selected as a Brubeck Institute Fellow. While studying at the Brubeck Institute, I met the musicians who would become my best friends and strongest musical inspirations, I studied with the most amazing musicians currently on the scene, and I had international performance opportunities, and even got to know and work with Dave himself. My time spent there was honestly a dream come true.

Dave's music represents an unwavering commitment to personal creativity, but also balanced with an endearment that touched millions of people across the globe. Anyone could listen to the music of Dave Brubeck and feel the heart in it. This is what I felt at my first Dave Brubeck concert experience in 2000, what inspired me and thousands of others to pursue their creative passion, and what will continue to inspire listeners for years to come.

Here are five records of Dave's that are particularly inspiring to me:

"Brubeck Plays Brubeck" (1956)

Dave wrote nine tunes, recorded solo piano versions of them in his house, and released it on Columbia Records in 1956 as "Brubeck Plays Brubeck." The result is one of the great solo piano records: every tune is original, but every tune feels like a classic. (Of course, "In Your Own Sweet Way" and "The Duke" did go on to become classics, but their original recordings appear here.) Dave's solo playing is crystal clear, often blurring the line between "melody" and "improvisation." Every track listens like an entirely composed piece, but also maintains a casual, "just playing in your living room" sentiment.

"Jazz Impressions of the USA" (1957)

This is my personal favorite of the "Jazz Impressions" series that Dave recorded for Columbia Records. The compositions stand out among Dave's strongest for the quartet. "Plain Song" is one of the wildest minor blues heads you would ever hear. And to close this record is "Home At Last," which is another solo piano classic that Dave recorded in his California home. (This track was basically a textbook for jazz piano harmony for me, with drop two's, walking 10ths, upper structure triads, and inner voice.) Fortunately, this classic record recently became available on CD/iTunes!

"Dave Digs Disney" (1957)

One of the first jazz records to explore Disney music (which wasn't that old then!), Dave's quartet captures the joyful energy of these beautiful melodies in a way that no other quartet could. And some of Dave's solo playing on this record is absolute magic: the piano intro on "Someday My Prince Will Come," and the outro on "When You Wish Upon a Star" are some of Dave's best recorded playing, absolutely virtuosic.

"At Carnegie Hall" (1963)

Although the classic DBQ (Dave Brubeck Quartet) is known for its "cool" records of the late-'50s and -'60s, this record captures the explosive energy that they would produce in a live concert. "Southern Scene" is particularly beautiful and one of Dave's lesser known tunes. And "Blue Rondo a la Turk" is unforgettable. Paul's solo is as classic as his "Time Out" take, and Dave's solo takes its time, building into an amazing double time. This is a must- hear.

"The Duets" (1975)

The chemistry between Paul Desmond and Dave Brubeck is felt on this record in a more personal way than almost any other. Dave and Paul are basking in each other's sounds, working together to create a duo sound that could only result from years of experience together. "Koto Song" is one of my favorites on this record, a rare example of Dave and Paul exploring more open improvisation.

This piece was posted on the Brubeck Institute blog (http://brubeckinstitute.wordpress.com/) just days after Dave Brubeck's death. It is reprinted here with permission.