Welcome to Higher Order. We talk to creative people with ambitious ideas that are out to change the world. Today, we had the honor of speaking with award-winning composer, musician, educator, and entrepreneur Chris Brubeck. As the son of jazz legend, Dave Brubeck, Chris has been immersed since childhood in making music and using it to help break down barriers across societies and cultures around the world. Listen in as we learn about his family, their music, and what keeps them grounded in both their artistry and their humanity.
Josh: Chris, thank you so much for joining us.
Chris Brubeck: It’s my pleasure to be with you guys.
Devon: Chris, we always like to start off our episodes by asking our guests to give a little brief origin story. So, can you tell us a little bit about where you’re from, what your journey has been? Just tell us about you.
Chris Brubeck:Well, basically, I was very fortunate to have been born into a very creative family, where my mother, Iola, majored in radio acting in college because there wasn’t television yet, and she was a super intelligent woman, and she ended up writing a lot of lyrics and helping manage my father, who is the jazz musician, Dave Brubeck, and a composer, too, and they ended up writing a lot of things together.
Chris Brubeck: So, I grew up in an environment where you could see that people made a beautiful living bringing music and joy to people all over the world. So, instead of that seeming just a distant crazy pipe dream, I saw with my own eyes that, “Oh, you can do this. You can work hard at it,” and I felt like I inherited the genetic material to have musical ideas and lyrical ideas. I wanted to combine them both.
Chris Brubeck: I grew up at a time where there was a lot of jazz in my house, but the Beatles were the cool thing of my generation in seventh and eighth grade. So, a couple things were going on. Hearing jazz all the time, developing my skills as a young musician playing in local youth symphony orchestras, playing trombone, but also loving rock and roll and entering the seventh grade talent show with the band I put together with all my friends who couldn’t play anything, but we figured out how to play Surfin’ USA by the Beach Boys. That group was called The Vibrations.
Chris Brubeck: Then I went to a special music school in high school called the Interlochen Arts Academy, where we had a great orchestra, maybe the finest high school orchestra in the country, two hours a day, new material, very serious conductors, people were being trained to go to Julliard, that kind of thing. There I met other young classical musicians that love rock and roll, and I became a roll and roll musician and toured the country in vans. I’ve paid a lot of dues and put out three records as a rock and roll guy.
Chris Brubeck: In the mid ’70s, ran into a big problem with Columbia Records and shady contracts, and that’s a long story I won’t get in to, but the band broke up. Two people of my band quit music altogether. My dad said, “Chris, don’t be blue. Why don’t you start playing bass with me?” So, then I played bass in the Dave Brubeck Quartet off and on for 20 years. Made lots of records, toured the world, and I went from staying in the worst motels with my rock and roll band trying to make it to playing Carnegie Hall and the equivalent all over the world and staying in the best hotels with my dad and living just a completely different jazz life.
Chris Brubeck: In the meantime, I kept composing. I was on tour with Dave, but I was fortunate in that Patty LaBelle recorded one of my songs and so did Bobby Womack. So, I had a foot in the niche world, and also been writing different musicals at different times, different symphonic pieces. In the last 20 years, I wrote a trombone concerto that was discovered by the bass trombonist in the Boston Symphony, and then almost all the major bass trombonist in the world have played it with orchestras because there aren’t that many concertos, especially new ones, that people happen to like. That led to commission after commission with me working with a lot of younger people, including a fabulous group called Time for Three. I wrote a concerto for their violinist, and a concerto for the group.
Chris Brubeck: The latest thing that happened just this last year was a concerto that I wrote for the internationally well-known guitarist Sharon Isbin. She’s won a couple of Grammy’s and I wrote a concerto for her called Affinity for Guitar and Orchestra. So, that may be the most long-winded answer you ever got, but now you have kind of an idea of who I am. I forgot to mention that I play mainly electric fretless bass, also trombone, and also play piano, and toured with the jazz group called The Brubeck Brothers Quartet with my brother Dan on drums, Chuck Lamb on piano, Mike DeMicco on guitar. We’ve put out five albums, and another great group I’m in called Triple Play, which feature Peter “Madcat” Ruth on harmonica and Joel Brown on guitar. We’ve put out about four records. So, as you can see, I have a pretty busy life.
Josh: That’s a lot. There’s a lot of bands there. The music has definitely been a family affair. You talked about your brothers. I think there’s another Brubeck Quartet on the other side of the Atlantic, right?
Chris Brubeck: Right. My oldest brother, Darius, started out as a trumpet player, became a pianist, and then a music educator. He ended up spending 20 years running the first jazz university level program on the whole continent of Africa, but after doing that for such a large portion of his life, he ended up living in England. So, he has his own group called the Darius Brubeck Quartet over there, but about once a year, Dan and I go over to England and work with the sax player, Dave O’Higgins, who’s in Darius’ group, and we have a group called Brubecks Play Brubeck, which usually we do a weekend run at Scott’s, London’s most popular and longstanding jazz club, and then we do a tour for a week in different cities in England. So, that’s part of another connection.
Chris Brubeck: The Brubeck Brothers Quartet is mainly North American-based, and then Darius’ group is mainly based in England.
Josh: So, when you were growing up, it’s probably hard to really put together who influenced who and how it all worked, but I’d love to hear just a little bit of being in that type of creative musically-driven home. What was the number one thing? Did your dad influence you the most? Did you as brothers learn to play together? How did all that work? How do you think that influenced you as a creative person and a musician?
Chris Brubeck: Well, to give an example from a brotherly point of view, Darius is five or six years older than me, and at one point when he was in high school, it just was like when Bob Dylan was going electric. So, Darius had some bands, and he already was playing guitar, and he taught me how to play some guitar. At one point he said, “Hey, I want to put together a band so we can do some gigs playing at some of these beach pavilions around the shore in Connecticut.”
Chris Brubeck: He asked me if I’d be willing to play bass. I said, “Well, I guess so. It’s the same four strings as the bottom of a guitar except for an octave lower. Yeah, I could do that.” So, that was influence to me of how I got into playing bass and rock and roll situation through him.
Chris Brubeck: Then around our house, we were surrounded by a lot of the greatest jazz musicians in the world playing in our house, and as a little kid, I used to love hearing these guys play. Of course, you’re not aware that that sax player that you’re hearing is probably going to win the DownBeat poll as best jazz sax player that year or the drummer or the bass player or Dave on piano. There was just our honorary uncles that played a lot at our house, but I definitely remember as a kid I liked to crawl under the piano and listen to the rehearsals because under the piano, I couldn’t get stepped on or be in their way, and I got to hear this amazing tone of the grand piano above me, and the bass next to me, and the bass drum next to that.
Chris Brubeck: So, I just appreciated the magic of music making with all these great friendly giants that lived in our house. I mean, at my height, at that age, literally, giants and figuratively musical giants.
Josh: That’s fantastic. So, for our audience who may not yet be jazz converts, and I’ll say I’m a huge, huge music fan. I’ve listened to all kinds of stuff for a really long time, but I always had a hard time finding my way into jazz. It all seemed like so much and so different from what I normally was listening to. It was actually The Dave Brubeck Quartet, the Time Out album, that really was the first song where I was like, “I love this. I want to hear more of this.” It helped me find my way into it. How would you recommend to somebody who’s interested in uncovering jazz for themselves? Where do they enter in for you? Unpack the genre a little bit for us.
Chris Brubeck: It’s interesting. First of all, I want to comment that your story is not completely unique because I’ve met in the course of my career and playing all over and meeting people backstage or just in a restaurant where you might be talking to someone. A lot of people had that comment, and I used to joke that Time Out was the gateway drug into jazz. It’s like people heard that and there was something appealing and engaging about it that they really loved.
Chris Brubeck: There are certain classic records and, fortunately, I would say on any jazz historians list, Time Out is in the top five or top 10 of continuingly influential records. In fact, there was a number of records made in 1959, the same time that was recorded that are considered the big seminal records to get into artists like Miles Davis and Charles Mingus and even Ornette Coleman had a record called The Shape of Things to Come.
Chris Brubeck: So, in terms of how do you really get in to jazz, I mean, the other thing I say because once in a while in my life I’ve done a little parks and rec teaching when I was in college. For me, blues is an important part of what American music is. I mean, you wouldn’t have rock and roll without the blues, and you wouldn’t have jazz without the blues. Both of those streams come from mighty river of blues.
Chris Brubeck: Even in my father’s, one of his most famous tunes is Blue Rondo à la Turk, which is a 9/8 time. It’s interesting in a lot of different ways. My father never would have written that tune had he not been in a 1958 state department tour, where America had discovered that jazz was so admired around the world, that it was really America’s best export to try to win hearts and minds and admiration for the United States.
Chris Brubeck: When my dad was on this crazy long tour that went all over the Middle East like Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, they went to India, one of the safer places that they went was Turkey, and my father heard the street musicians that were playing a beat that he had never heard growing up, which I will demonstrate for you. It’s a nine, but it sounds like this. That’s one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. That’s the basic thing he heard, and my dad heard that rhythm. He put a melody to that rhythm, and that was the basis for this tune Blue Rondo à la Turk.
Chris Brubeck: In the middle of that tune, when he had stretched the audience about as far as they could go into this world music approach to jazz, where he goes right back into alternative the blues with the 9/8 and then finally the tune turns into a big blues jam. Sometimes we’re playing it live, both in my dad’s group or in The Brubeck Brother Quartet, and we get so lost in the blues and the audience even forgets. They’re like, “How did they get here?” Finally, we give a signal, and we’re back into the 9/8 thing, but it’s just a wonderful example of just reminding everyone that even with the innovation of a tune like Blue Rondo à la Turk, at the heart of American jazz is still the blues.
Josh: It’s a great story. What a great piece of American history that you’re talking about that the tour took a while, be an ambassador for America, share that music with the world. That must have been both an honor and completely intimidating at the same time.
Chris Brubeck: Yeah, it was. My parents’ stories of what they went through, I remember as a little kid that someone had a little Bell and Howell movie projector. I’m sad to say that no one has been able to find this film, but we all remember that we saw it. It had pictures of them playing in India and cobras coming out of baskets with snake charmers, intrigued by a Paul Desmond sax sound.
Chris Brubeck: At one point, they’re flying on this airplane through the Khyber Pass and you can see as they take the picture out the window, it looks so small, like the airplane wings are just about to hit the rocks, and they shoot it an angle down below, and you see that there’s sheep herders, but when they see an airplane, they’re so used to hating all foreigners, they go for their guns and they’re shooting rifles at the airplane. I mean, that’s literally something we all saw and we talk about with my siblings. This was real.
Chris Brubeck: My parents, they were on tours in places where a week after they left there was a revolution, and my father at one point when he was in Germany and he was supposed to go over to East Germany to get special passes to get on the train to get to Poland, which is behind the iron curtain, he’s working with the US cultural, yeah, the state department, and their cultural attachés, and they said, “Well, we need to get you in, but we don’t really have permission. So, why don’t you get in the trunk and we’ll drive across at East Germany.”
Chris Brubeck: My dad is saying, “I’m not going to get in the trunk. What if they check the trunk? Then they’ll really think … I could end up in jail in a gulag forever.” So, I was a little kid when they did this tour in ’58, but I did go with my father on a big tour of Russia, which, actually, even led to a big tour on ’87 and then in ’88, we had a gig where we’re playing at the White House, and we had this strange situation where we were thrown into a backroom to talk to the Reagans, and by the time we were through, and that could be a long story, but I won’t get into it, talking to them, they invited us to come over to play for Gorbachev at the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit.
Chris Brubeck: So, I’ve seen how the state department actively because I was there for about two weeks, how they try to integrate the presence of art and an artistic community, which is usually the most liberal and far thinking segment of any society to meet different artists, to get together, to have concerts for the public, to win the hearts and minds. I mean, that thing that he was involved with in ’58, it’s still going on today with the different musical export programs or it used to be. I don’t know exactly. With COVID, it’s all probably all compromised.
Devon: Yeah. I think we’ve just decided that we have to launch an entire podcast series with you, Chris, just unpacking all these stories because they’re amazing. I just want to hear about it. You’re like, “I’m not going to go into that story,” I’m like, “No, please do. Please just keep talking.”
Devon: It’s fascinating. I know one of the things we’re going to touch on a little bit later in this episode is the place of music and art in society and culture and how it can be a change maker, but before we go in that direction, one of the things that I always find so incredible is that you guys translate all these experiences, right? These are political and these are cultural, and you take all of them and you turn them into spices, then you put all that spice into your music. Can you talk a little bit about, I mean, the dichotomy between composer, musician, improvisation, and just all these influences of different genres of music, different places, different rhythms, and how you can blend those together and what comes out of that.
Chris Brubeck: Okay. I’ll try.
Devon: It’s a big question. I guess maybe start for us, if you would, composer-musician. How does that relationship work? Is it always symbiotic or is there a battle sometimes?
Chris Brubeck: I think whether you’re an author or a playwright or a poet or a musician, one of the things that’s interesting is that you are your first editor and your first critic. A lot of times when I go to write something and how I compose these days is fortunately for me, and I’m a Luddite. I’m anti-technology, but I only owned a computer and got a computer because I wanted to take advantage of this idea. There’s a musical program called Finale and another popular one called Sibelius, where your computer turns into a musical typewriter, where you can have an idea and there’s a code, like a quarter note might be a five and an eighth note a four, and you press a little keyboard, and it gets typed in to score paper that’s produced on the computer screen.
Chris Brubeck: So, that’s really nice because in the old days, you would spend all of your money. Let’s say if you got a commission to write a piece for 10,000 bucks, you would spend $7,000 for a copyist, someone who had a beautiful handwriting and special ink and papers to make it look pretty, and then maybe you would get it sent over to Korea where they have musical typesetters. It was a long process.
Chris Brubeck: But here, you just create it and what, your end product is publishably good-looking. On top of all that, what’s amazing is that you could hit a playback button and if I put an oboe line in, it comes out sounding like an oboe. At first, it was a synthesizer imitating an oboe, and now it’s evolved, too. It’s literally an oboe that’s playing what you wrote.
Chris Brubeck: So, you’re able to hear what’s going on as you’re writing. So, that’s a part of the process. It’s really rewarding for me in the style that I compose with because I’ve never had any formal lessons. I didn’t go to Julliard or Yale or any place to learn how to compose.
Chris Brubeck: I learned by playing in orchestras as a kid, so I knew what everything sounded like. The kids I considered nerds who were sitting with scores in their hands, I wasn’t that smart. I just listened. Then as a musician playing in my dad’s group, he wrote a lot of pieces that involved orchestra, and so I had a lot of in the trench experience about what seems to work, what works for musicians, what gets them excited, and what makes an audience excited.
Chris Brubeck: So, I incorporated a lot of that, and I saw in my father’s music and I really do think that my dad was a genius in a lot of different ways, but he also was by far not an “educated” kind of person. I’ll give you example that a lot of people know that there’s classical influence in my father’s jazz piano playing. A contemporary of his who would have the same, if you just look at the tip of the iceberg, you would have a similar biography. It would be like André Previn, who is a good classical player, and conductor, could read scores like crazy, and got attracted jazz, and he could play jazz and put out jazz albums.
Chris Brubeck: So, people say, “Oh, Dave Brubeck, there’s classical elements to his. He must be like André Previn,” but the reality of those two guys’ lives is so different. My father grew up on a ranch, and was literally a cowboy. I’ve got movies of him, roping cow, getting up when the sun rose, working till sunset, branding and all that kind of cowboy stuff. His mother somehow was a classical piano teacher, and his father was a foreman of a 40,000 acre ranch in Northern California.
Chris Brubeck: So, my dad had probably what they wouldn’t have done with the call up and maybe dyslexia, but he couldn’t see that well and his eyes weren’t focusing that. He go and he had corrective lenses, and he really never became the kind of guy that could sit down and read a Bach Partita and play it perfectly like André Previn could. He just developed these amazing ears to compensate.
Chris Brubeck: So, now, I’ve gone off on another long tangent, but the environment that you’re in really dictates so much of what you’re going to be like in the end. I mean, you don’t know what’s shaping you. My father would go on these long horse rides, and there’s a certain pace to the horse. To keep himself from going nuts out of boredom, he would start thinking of counter rhythms like three against two, seven against four.
Chris Brubeck: When the sun got too hot, there was a place that was like a water cooler that cast shade. It was a pump that would pump water out, but he would sit under there and get the shade and hear the rhythm of the machine, and he started hearing all these different rhythms. That’s one of the things that got him interested in odd time signatures. It’s just the rhythms implied by the machinery or the horse’s gait, not the kind of classical training you would get at Julliard, and yet influential in his own way.
Chris Brubeck: This was so daunting and haunting for him, this approach, is that when he finally went to college at University of Pacific, it was only because his mother really insisted, “You’ve got to go to college, Dave. It’s very important that you go there.”
Chris Brubeck: When he got there, he decided to be a veterinarian because he wanted to be able to help his dad in the ranch by having some practical skill. So, he had some preliminary medical lessons, and he had science, and he had labs, and at one point, he almost accidentally blew up the lab and the science teacher said, “Go to the building across the Diag there. That’s the music building. That’s where you belong, Dave.”
Chris Brubeck: So, he went there and he became one of their best students, and they didn’t realize till the final exam that he could barely read music. His ears were so great. There was a big kerfuffle about him. Half the faculty said, “We got a flunk this guy. He can’t pass any of the tests or read music.” The other half said, “We can’t flunk the most talented guy we’ve ever had.”
Chris Brubeck: So, they went up to the Dean of Humanities and had a big meeting, and they reached an agreement that if Dave promise he’d never teach music because he was totally unqualified, they’d let him graduate. So, anyhow, that’s, again, more tips of various icebergs. I don’t know how close I got to answering any of your question, Devon, but it’s just part of how the environment creates the kind of musician you are, and with all of these things, no matter what your skills or talents or blessings, you have to have a lot of discipline to be a composer, to write, and I started off by saying you have to be a self-editor.
Chris Brubeck: One thing I always tell myself is that if you’re too critical of yourself, you’ll never write anything, I mean, because arguably, anything anyone ever wrote could have been written better. So, you have to be forgiving, and I’ll usually start writing something in finale and work on it till late at night when it’s nice and quiet and the phone is not ringing. I call it I’m exploring, and then I get up in the morning, and I listen to what I wrote. Happily, most of the time I said, “Yeah. Well, that’s not half bad. That’s worth pursuing,” and part of this is relationship between improvisation and composition.
Chris Brubeck: There’s a quote that I just completely love my dad taught me. It’s from Igor Stravinsky, who is one of my favorite composers and my father’s as well. This quote is monumental, and is brevity in its meaning. It’s, “Composition is selective improvisation.” Short but sweet.
Chris Brubeck: So, like a jazz musician has an idea in the middle of a chorus, and it’s inspired by the environment of what the piano player happen to play or the bass player or the drummer, and he goes [sings a rhythm] and the composer will take the time that was instantaneous what the jazz guy did and write down [sings same rhythm] and this guy figures out how to notate it, what does it sound like. He has selected, and it came from the same brain spark whether you’re playing jazz or you’re composing something, and then you have the discipline to develop that. Are you going to take that little idea and then modulate it or put it into something that’s a fugue texture with different voices answering it and different keys? All of this takes work in nurturing and some crazy belief in yourself that you have something worthy to say, and if you’re lucky, you get to hear other people play it, and then you get reaffirmation that you are on some sort of path that’s valid, that’s worthwhile, that people enjoy, and you get encouraged to do the next thing.
Devon: It sounds like, too, if you don’t lose where you came from and what grounds you, it sounds like that helps keep you like a ballast, it keeps you grounded. I know for your family oftentimes one of the things that ground your dad in his composing and your mom because she worked a lot with your dad, I mean, they were such a team, and also for you is your spirituality. Can you talk a little bit about how those things that keep your feet on the ground help you create honest work?
Chris Brubeck: Besides the beauty of playing in my dad’s group doing all the jazz concerts we did all over the world, he disbanded his quartet I believe it was in 1967, and that was the group with Paul Desmond, and Eugene Wright, and Joe Morello. I remember as a kid, this is a big deal. It was on the national news broadcast that John Chancellor on NBC hosted saying, “Well, one of the most famous groups in the history of jazz played their last concert in Pittsburgh.”
Chris Brubeck: There it was. It was literally nationally news. The reason my dad did that was he was getting a little bit burned out from being on the road forever and doing concerts, but more than that is he wanted to put his energy into writing big classical pieces, which we call oratorios or cantatas. That actually was a big dream of his. My dad was drafted in World War II, and he was was theoretically a rifle man in Patton’s army. So, when my dad went over, it was three weeks after D-Day.
Chris Brubeck: Also, he was very lucky because right before the Battle of the Bulge, which was the final pushback, he was in an armory, a dept place, a resupply place known as the mud hole, where everyone was getting ready for this big battle coming up. There was a USO show by these girls that were like Andrews Sisters, and they pull up in a truck, and they get there and all the GIs are sitting on their helmets in the mud for this last entertainment before they get thrown against the Panzer divisions of the German army.
Chris Brubeck: A lady says, “We’ve lost our piano player. Does anyone play piano?”
Chris Brubeck: I mean, this is like from a Hollywood movie, right? My dad’s friends look at him, “Hey, Dave. You play piano, right?” So, he stands up and he goes up there and he didn’t have any music, but once again, he wasn’t André Previn, he could do it all by ear. So, he played, and they were looking like, “Wow! This guy’s good.” There happened to be a guy named Colonel Brown in the audience that heard Dave play. He just went saying, “Wow! This guy is such a great player. I can’t stand the thought of him just going up to the front and get shoot up by the German tanks.”
Chris Brubeck: Their instructions were dig a foxhole, hide in it, and when the Germans drive over, you try to put a sticky Molotov cocktail on the tank, that kind of stuff. One of his hands got run over and his eardrums got blown and he’s deaf. So, he called my dad aside, and he says, “I’m giving you a special assignment. I’m giving you papers. I’m assigning you a truck. I want you to look for wounded people that play and I want to form a band. That’s much more important in our war effort for you to create music to keep spirits up than being one more rifle against the Germans.”
Chris Brubeck: So, that’s a total life-changing moment, and it goes back to your story of this spirituality because my father just thought it was so incomprehensible that he could see all the death and destruction by a culture like Germany, which produced Bach, and Beethoven, and classical music love, and theoretically were Christians. How could they end up that we’re all killing each other this way?
Chris Brubeck: So, he said, “If I live through this crazy thing called World War II, I want to write a big piece based on the teachings of Christ, and I want to set it for orchestra and soloists, and include something unusual which is jazz improvisation along with all of that.”
Chris Brubeck: When he got back from World War II, he was able to study with a famous French composer named Darius Milhaud. Milhaud recognized my dad’s talent right away and really nurtured it. It was Milhaud that said to my father it was really important to go out and listen to the music of the world. Milhaud was actually the first guy, he’s a Frenchman. He came to New York during the Harlem Renaissance. He’s the first European composer to incorporate blues into his orchestra music, and for him it was like, “Oh, that’s that music I heard in a foreign place called New York.”
Chris Brubeck: He said to my father, “When you travel, incorporate the cultures of different things you hear into your music,” which echoed back in that Blue Rondo à la Turk’s story when my dad was in Turkey.
Josh: Has that carried with you? I kept thinking about Mary Magdalene, and the way that that piece it crosses genres, it brings so much together. It’s really remarkable piece. Has that been a really big influence on your creative process?
Chris Brubeck: Yeah. Well, thank you, Josh, for heading me back on the path because that’s where I was going with all this is that because I heard my father write this piece that became known as The Light in the Wilderness, and then he went on to write 17 or 18 more of these big pieces that were commissioned by people that could hear Dave’s spirituality in his music, and this combination of reflective jazz improvisation with all these different kinds of music and orchestra and classical references as well.
Chris Brubeck: So, I played bass in a lot of those premiers, and I heard that music, and the piece you just mentioned was a piece that was commissioned by Big Arts Festival. Every two years, they commission a composer over in Switzerland. I went there and wrote this piece and they actually asked me to help celebrate Dave’s 100 centennial to, “Please write it in the style that your parents did,” which is including that element of jazz improvisation, but, again, for my father’s MO is to use biblical texts as much as possible because he thought that was the best way.
Chris Brubeck: For example, when he’s confronting racism in America like how many people that are racist devoutly go to church and don’t see the hypocrisy in being a racist. So, my father would have biblical texts, which they’d be familiar with and, hopefully, put it in a setting where it would make them reflect a little bit. Are they living up to the words that they claim they believe in, and he did that with a piece called The Gates of Justice, which had religious texts and Martin Luther King.
Chris Brubeck: You have to get obsessed with it to really put all the discipline and the hours, and you get embroiled in the text, and it starts affecting your everyday moment, just the philosophy that’s in these powerful words that are in the bible. It’s hard to say.
Chris Brubeck: I guess it would be being a mother and being pregnant for nine months before you give birth to something. There’s this unbelievable connection to the piece that you’re working on. I saw Dave go through it, and we’ve written things together, so I know what it’s like.
Chris Brubeck: In the case of this, Mary Magdalene and the Garden Dweller, I felt the whole thing itself, and it turned out to be such a beautiful experience because it was an international cast. We’re in Switzerland with a Brazilian pianist/conductor. The person who’s sang Mary Magdalene, I think she was from Argentina, the person that’s sang Jesus was from, I think he was from France, and people from all over the world were there, and it was all students, so this beautiful youthful energy, it’s amazing how the arts can connect across generations. So, it was a real pleasure. Then it turned out later on the whole performance had an extra significance.
Josh: What was the extra significance before we transition to our next topic?
Chris Brubeck: So, after the premier of Mary Magdalene and the Garden Dweller, The Brubeck Brothers Quartet had a gig back in the United States, a couple of gigs, and then we came back to Europe and we did a week a Ronnie Scott’s and then some concerts around England.
Chris Brubeck: Ronnie Scott’s is an incredibly international place. This was in March, early March. Every waiter had just come back from visiting their girlfriend in Italy or Portugal or Spain, and three bands in the dressing room every night, and we’re all pretty sure that that’s a point where this is when we’re just starting a story like Tom Hanks had COVID in Australia along with his wife. It was just starting to get into everyone’s international consciousness away from China.
Chris Brubeck: So, to make a long story shorter, our last concern in England, we were supposed to fly to Poland to do a concert, and the Polish government canceled the concert because there was more than a thousand people, and at that point, the response was, “If it’s more than 1,000 people, we shouldn’t have a gathering.” So, we flew back to the United States, and my brother Darius lived in England at that point. So, he stayed there.
Chris Brubeck: It turned out we all came down with COVID. In the case of my brother Darius and my brother Dan, they got very, very, very sick and were on ventilators and went to a medically induced coma, and all that kind of thing. So, the good news after weeks of nail-biting is that they’re recovered, and doing well, but the fact that they did recover is rather miraculous
Chris Brubeck: When I talked to my brother Darius, one of the first things he wanted to communicate to me, he said that one of the things that kept him going was there’s a reoccurring chorale in Mary Magdalene and the Garden Dweller, where the most important line is, “Love is stronger than death.” Darius said, “I had learned the piece,” and he had played it, and it was just on a rewind in his mind. It would just keep replaying and replaying and replaying that part of the piece.
Chris Brubeck: He said it really just helped him. He said at some point, you’re so deep and so near death that a lot of times you’re given an option, “Okay. You can let go and off you go into the magic light tunnel,” or into the next universe, whatever that’s going to be or you have a choice like, “Do you want to come back to Earth and fight the good fight longer? Are there people you really care about?”
Chris Brubeck: So, my brother Darius said, “Hey, love is stronger than death. It just kept going. That was my mantra, and I made it to the other side.”
Chris Brubeck: So, it was another time that you really pinch yourself and you wonder about this completely interweaving of art, and the power of art and music, and spirituality, and what you inherit from your parents, and the circumstances of being able to do a piece like that, and then how it goes from a very universal thing into being very specifically important to your immediate family unit. So, I know it’s just all part of the great mystery of life.
Josh: That’s an incredible story, and it must make that piece of music even that much more meaningful for you and your whole family. It’s crazy to think back that that was just a year ago like all that everybody’s gone through, and that we’ve talked about COVID so much to go back to a time when it was so fresh and people were still not even sure what it was. That’s a really remarkable story.
Chris Brubeck: Yeah. I mean, that’s part of the beauty of getting older is you live long enough and there are all these remarkable stories. I think that when I was 25 or something, I may have read a book that said something poetic or the idea was every act you do in the universe doesn’t just happen in a singular way. It’s like throwing a pebble into a pond and you watch the ripple of where the stone landed, and it goes out and it goes out.
Chris Brubeck: When you live long enough, you see like, “Oh, my God! This is something that started 30 years ago and it’s rippled,” and now it’s coming back in a way that you didn’t even know at the time that you made your first little splash, how it’s affected someone else or what’s going to happen. I mean, life is a pretty incredible thing. I mean, there’s a lot wrong with it, of course, and we’ve been living with that, but it’s also been an interesting time because every concert that we had planned, and it was this very special year because it was our dad’s 100th year, his centennial.
Chris Brubeck: We had over 100 concerts that we’re planned, have been canceled. All these years of planning and a big concert at Royal Albert Hall with the BBC Orchestra in the Hollywood Bowl, in the New Orleans Heritage Festival, all this stuff has just evaporated and gone. That seems like a real tragedy.
Chris Brubeck: On the other hand in our particular case, we were going, “Well, screw that. I mean, as long as everyone’s alive, that’s the most important thing.” It’s been a very interesting time in terms of … It’s the first time since I have been 17 that I haven’t really been constantly on tour.
Josh: Let’s talk about that a little bit because another aspect of being an artist that gets overlooked often is the entrepreneurial side, the business side of what you have to do to get your work out there. So, you’ve unpacked a little bit for us how COVID has hit the work you’ve been doing, but definitely talk a little bit more about that aspect of it. Taking on and not only managing your own music and your family, but also you guys recently started a record label that’s putting out a lot of your dad’s music and Time Outtakes. So, tell us a little bit about the marketing side or the business side of what you do.
Chris Brubeck: Yeah. Well, actually, that was perfectly well-put there, Joshua, because that’s where I was going that while I was in bed for basically two months trying to completely get over COVID instead of literally doing nothing because I was so tired all the time and obviously not on tour, my brother Dan, because I was doing so much composing and writing Mary Magdalene, he had been most in-charge of going through material and selecting different unheard outtakes from the famous 1959 sessions that produced Time Out. We’re all involved, but I gave him the lion’s share, but he was literally in a hospital in a medically induced coma.
Chris Brubeck: So, I thought, “Well, I’ve got to pick this up.”
Chris Brubeck: So, I was in bed listening a lot, taking notes, communicating with our engineer, look for this take, look for that. There was a lot of archival things to identify which track was which. That was a long and tedious process, but I had the time because I wasn’t fighting my way through airports. I was just in bed in astral traveling through headphones back in time.
Chris Brubeck: The great thing is we discovered amazing music and takes that I consider better than the ones that went on Time Out. You don’t know exactly why they weren’t chosen. In some cases, it’s just because, for example, Blue Rondo à la Turk, which opens up the original Time Out, to take this on Time Outtakes was on longer version, where my dad instead of playing three courses played 10 or something like that.
Chris Brubeck: So, someone probably said, “Oh, that’s too long for a single. So, don’t do that.”
Chris Brubeck: It doesn’t mean it wasn’t a better take. It’s just for the technology at the time it was too long. So, you go from that idea of you have to find the music and then you have to work really hard in the real world to get really good at mixes and remixes, and then in this particular COVID world, it became a big drag that you have to do the process of vinyls really getting really big. So, it was very difficult because there happen to be a lacquer plant fire in the United States and screwed up the entire industry because it’s an important piece of how you make a record.
Chris Brubeck: So, everyone’s months behind. So, you’re working with designing… and my wife Tish does more work on this side of our little record company than I do. I have to give credit where credit is due. So, it’s coordinating artists and liner notes and putting out the CDs and working with the record companies in their different timelines, and then we were fortunate we found a distributor that had a really good reputation for their honesty, and they’ve been wonderful working with us. I mean, everyone we’ve worked with has felt that this project was historically really a monumental thing to get involved with. We worked with our radio promotion, a man named Mike Carlson, who worked with us on Brubeck Brother Quartet records before, and he got it, and so did the distributor at NVD. They got it.
Chris Brubeck: We hired a publicist named Lydia Liebman, who happens to be the daughter of Dave Liebman, a very famous saxophone player in jazz history, who not only with his own abilities and leaders, but was also in Miles Davis’ group. So, this team that we put together, and we’re like the little engine that could because at the same time, Universal Records put out a record of my dad to celebrate his 100th anniversary, and it’s a record called Lullabies. It’s a solo piano project that he did a few years before he died.
Chris Brubeck: So, I got involved with that and remixing it, resequencing it because there I was in bed. I had time in my hands. So, both these records have come out and have gotten really nice reviews. I’m just really proud because our little record company called Brubeck Editions is all involved with our family in terms of voting how we contribute to fund it and to keep it going. We’ve got cover stories and probably 75 great reviews from all over the world, and people are really loving the record.
Chris Brubeck: So, it just feels great. It’s like, “Well, we did something right to celebrate Dave’s 100th anniversary, even when all the touring got canceled. That happened. So, that was a really good thing. Of course, it takes a lot of work, but also when you work with the right people just for other people who might be listening to this, this work collaboration can be a really joyful thing because it’s fun to work with gifted intelligent people working towards the same goal.
Josh: That’s great. I’m going to definitely get a copy of Time Outtakes. I’m really excited about it. For you, had you heard these outtakes before or were they newly discovered for you?
Chris Brubeck: They were newly discovered for us. About two years ago, we’re on another Brubecks Play Brubeck tour in England, and I had some very rough tapes. What happened is that there were two people that wrote biographies or one is a biography of Dave by a man named Philip Clark, who’s English and another book by Stephen Crist, which was literally written only about the making of Time Out. I mean, it’s very much the kind of book for Oxford University press, an academic kind of book.
Chris Brubeck: They both said, “Hey, when we were digging around researching in the New York Public Library, I found some notes from Teo Macero, your dad’s producer about the different takes,” and I never even had wondered about it like, “Were there outtakes?” Columbia had released a lot of stuff with Dave, and repackaged different things. So, I figured that it all would have been done and released to the public before, but then we started listening to some of the very raw tapes, and we said, “Wow! This is worth going for,” because it was thrilling to us. We were going, “Holy moly! That’s one of the best sax solos I’ve ever heard Paul Desmond ever played.”
Chris Brubeck: So, it was an exciting new discovery for us, and we never even thought about it before or knew that they existed before. In a way, it’s great because it was really opening up a treasure chest and all of the golden light from the musical doubloons glowing in your face. It was fresh excitement, which we were able, I think, to convey to everyone else.
Chris Brubeck: When the record came out, we also were very pleased that there was amongst reviewers and podcast people in the jazz world, et cetera, and radio disc jockeys and personalities and airplay, I think there’s this real feeling that they know this is our family record company, and people are rooting for us to be able to put our intellectual property out there. It’s terrible how many … There’s literally hundreds of versions of bootleg versions of Time Outtakes that just circumvent the whole legality of where these records are supposed to come from or where royalties are paid or not paid. Obviously, in our own record company, we’re not doing that. So, it’s a good thing.
Josh: Right, right. For you personally, I mean, what’s it like to rediscover a work that your dad that the you hadn’t heard, is it almost getting to have a little conversation again? How does that feel for you personally to find some of those buried treasures?
Chris Brubeck: Well, it is, especially in the case of when you have his sons that have worked with him so much, and of all the brothers, I was on the road with him much more. I mean, we’ve all played with him at different times, but there was a point when I was in his quartet for maybe 15 years and no one else was.
Chris Brubeck: So, I’m very well-aware of the different levels of Dave’s playing, his good playing, his great playing, his inspired playing, his off the chart playing. Just to put the headphones on and I mentioned earlier in our discussions, it would remind me of when I crawl under the piano when I was a little kid. You’re hearing these great musicians and the way they exchange ideas. It’s also funny to hear how they would talk between takes and some of their banter and their personalities.
Chris Brubeck: Everyone in our family was saying, “Oh, it’s so weird to hear our father.” It was so much physically a higher voice as an older man, “You’re used to hearing his voice you’ll have all this gravel and stuff.”
Chris Brubeck: “Come on, guys. Let’s do one more take. I don’t think that that one’s great. Don’t worry.”
Chris Brubeck: He was a real cheerleader. So, it’s like going in this time tunnel of where things were before and brand new discovery, which is totally current, and they collide together in this beautiful sonic whirlpool of happiness. It brings me a lot of comfort and happiness to hear this great music.
Chris Brubeck: We’re looking forward to more of these deep dives with different material. Our goal is to put out music that people have never heard before. I’ve talked to many people that have heard this record and said, “It’s such an interesting thing,” because a lot of people have Time Out almost literally memorized, and they don’t even realize they have it memorized, but they know every sax solo and every drum solo and every piano solo.
Chris Brubeck: Then when they hear this music, some of which is different. We discovered some tracks that no one knows even existed for two tracks. It’s such an interesting combination of something completely familiar and comfortable and completely new at the same time. So, that’s what’s hooking people to hear this.
Devon: That’s cool. It’s like each of those is a new pebble that you throw into the water and you get to see all the ripples that come from that, and then the next hidden track you get to unearth is another pebble and another set of ripples. Making all of that accessible to us, the general public, you don’t know where our ripples are going to go from there, but that’s something that’s always been at the heart of your family’s initiatives and work, too, is education has always been such a key component.
Devon: I mean, whether it’s been cultural happenings like a lot of what you were discussing about how Dave felt in Germany and the hypocrisies between the war and spirituality. Same thing with the civil rights movement. I mean, the Ambassadors and all the work that your folks did back in the ’60s and for equality, and that you guys always have had a role in. Can you talk a little bit about the Living Legacy Project, the Brubeck Jazz Summit, and just of the education and cultural initiatives that you guys have going on right now.
Chris Brubeck: The Brubeck Jazz Summit is unfortunately something that’s been delayed. The first year was supposed to be last summer, which COVID took down, and this summer, we had a board meeting with … It’s beyond our family. It’s a lot of different people. We’re affiliated with a wonderful group called Classical Tahoe out there in Lake Tahoe. To try to put something up and then for safety reasons it’s like you can’t really guarantee all the parents, the complete safety of their sons or daughters that love jazz flying from Australia in an airplane in a time when there’s COVID still and variants.
Chris Brubeck: So, we decided we had to cancel it this summer, too. So, that’s a big dream. Was it Maya Angelou? What happens to a dream deferred? Some other poet, but that’s a deferred dream. Brubeck Living Legacy is a family nonprofit foundation that we’ve started where we’re going to be trying to assist people to continue Dave and Iola’s work in philosophy regarding civil rights and music scholarship. I mean, it could go from anything to helping a kid get some money so he can go to the jazz school he wants to go to or to encourage a young composer who maybe was inspired by our father to try to think of how do you incorporate jazz and classical music.
Chris Brubeck: Anyhow, we want to continue our parents’ great work. You mentioned The Real Ambassadors, and that probably bears some illuminating, what was it? It was a musical that my parents wrote after their state department adventures in 1958, and there were other jazz musicians that had been out before them and after them, including Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. It was during the Eisenhower administration, but it was the congressman from Harlem, Adam Clayton Powell, that really pushed the hardest like, “We’re missing a golden opportunity. You got to go out there and let the jazz musicians show the best side of America.”
Chris Brubeck: So, the administration agreed that was smart. After World War II when the Russians put up the iron curtain in Europe, it was really this thing called Voice of America, which was the equivalent of the internet of you couldn’t stop radio broadcast even though it was illegal to hear them and they would pump out what they called real news as opposed to fake news. That argument is still going on in terms of what the communists were pumping out as propaganda, and then they would hear American news, which, hopefully, was based closer to real truth. Then they went and fused jazz music, which was so attractive.
Chris Brubeck: I know in our travels we’ve definitely found that the more oppressed a society is, the more they love and value jazz, and there’s so much freedom on how that music is created. It’s really exciting to people.
Chris Brubeck: When my parents would come back from these tours, the 1958 tour was really the first big tour that Eugene Wright, who was African-American, when he had joined the group. Shortly after that, there was a big college concert tour, and Gene was so new to the group that I think the colleges had booked him in the South, saw pictures of the old bass player that happen to be White. So, there was this big commotion. Every time they would get ready to play, they go, “Oh, my God! You can’t go on. University of Alabama has never had an integrated group play before our students,” that kind of stuff.
Chris Brubeck: So, the president of the school would keep the band from going on stage. The kids and the audience were stomping their feet because, again, they were more progressive than the school rules, and then the president of the school would call in the governor, who could have been … Some of these famous racist governors like George Wallace or Orval Faubus.
Chris Brubeck: So, Dave ended up playing some concerts where he won, and losing a bunch of concerts, too, but it was a civil rights stand for him that became pretty well-known in the industry. Also, it would be someone like Louis Armstrong who’s out there as the face of America. America values freedom, democracy, and he’d come back and he couldn’t stay in the same hotel as other musicians he was touring with. Now, it’s obviously such hypocrisy.
Chris Brubeck: So, my parents wrote this musical called The Real Ambassador. It’s all about jazz musicians, and what they were told by the state department to do and what they experienced. It’s got tons and tons of great music in it, but also some interesting messages. It never went up on Broadway because it was too controversial. It did become a record. They did a recording of it and I think in 1962. Louis Armstrong really loved it, and for a very interesting reason the average person won’t think of is that Louis Armstrong, almost everyone knows who he is and he developed a persona that everyone thinks of him grinning, smiling, playing great trumpet, singing with that distinct voice, wiping his brow with a white handkerchief, but Louis Armstrong, the person, was deeply offended by the racism in the United States, and was much more radical of a person than he appeared.
Chris Brubeck: His managers didn’t want the real Louis to come out and alienate his fans. So, he enjoyed being involved with this musical my parents wrote because he was a character, although really obviously based on him, and the character was allowed to express things that the real Louis Armstrong couldn’t. It was a very important thing for him to be involved in this.
Chris Brubeck: Even to this day, there are different productions of The Real Ambassadors that happen here or there, and my wife Tish and I happen to see a great one that took place with the Memphis Light Opera Company. So, there’s a real interest in this historical piece, where the music is timeless. Unfortunately, the idea of racism isn’t a dead issue in this country.
Devon: Yeah. I was going to say it’s a different application, but we still have those same divides, and it just speaks to how arts and music can be change makers and can bridge divides and, as you said, reach across generations.
Chris Brubeck: Yeah, well-put.
Devon: I mean, it’s just a powerful tool, such a powerful tool.
Chris Brubeck: Yeah.
Devon: Awesome. Chris, cannot thank you enough. I’ve known you for a long time. Our families are friends. I play my kids Lullabies all the time, but I learned so much. Here I felt like I knew Dave and you and Tish and all the group, and I did to some degree, but this has been incredible. Thank you so much for your time, and for letting us into your world.
Chris Brubeck: Well, thank you for your interest. You guys take care and hope everything edits up properly.
Josh: Thank you so much. It’s been really great to talk to you, really inspiring.
Devon: Well, that’s our show. We hope you’re inspired to pursue your truth or your hard work and creativity. Let’s chase it together. This has been a Truth Collective production.