My Dad doesn’t have many heroes left, they are leaving us on what seems like a daily basis now. In the last few years, baseball greats of his youth like Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio and Johnny Pesky have all passed on. Sinatra and Benny Goodman no longer blast out of AM radios in souped up ‘34 Fords, and as he likes to remind me, a Coke does not cost a nickel anymore.
At 78, those icons of his generations have mostly slipped away, leaving only grainy footage, black and white photos, and scratchy recordings of those who were entertainment giants in a post-war America roaring toward the promiseland.
However, as so many have others have crossed over early in life, one Jazz icon from my father’s youth remained — Dave Brubeck. Many times I remembered thumbing through his album collection, seeing Brubeck’s work with Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan.
Brubeck passed on this week, just a few days shy of his 92nd birthday. He was the second jazz musician to garner the cover of Time and lived a life filled with music, performing until just a year ago. Many jazz greats like Charlie Parker and John Coltrane succumbed early to the temptations of living a free-form life that was reflection of their free-from music.
Brubeck was a jazz legend of the same magnitude — and — was the first person I ever interviewed for a newspaper.
Somewhere in the fall of 1981, Brubeck played a concert in my high school auditorium, and as member of the high school newspaper staff, I drew the assignment to interview him.
Cub reporter? not quite — gangly, inarticulate teenager? definitely.
At that time, Brubeck was experimenting with combining jazz and the traditional music played at Catholic masses, and he was giving a preview of this new form at our local venue that night.
On that chilly November afternoon I met Brubeck in the parking lot and he asked me if I wouldn’t mind if we walked while I interviewed him. He had long, flowing white hair and look more like an Apache elder chieftain than a musician. He seemed like a very old man (59, or about 10 years older than I am now) filled with wisdom.
At 17 I was armed with Pentax K-1000 camera and all sorts of deep probing questions like, “Do you listen to Led Zeppelin?” or “How long did it take you to learn how to play piano?”
He graciously answered and eventually we began to talk a little bit about some of the fusion jazz of the day like Stanley Clarke, Weather Report and even Santana.
I doubt it was an interview that he ranked as highly as being the cover story of Time magazine, but oddly enough it was probably memorable to him, if only because of the awkwardness of it.
As I have grown up, I have become a much more enlightened fan of all types music. One realizes that jazz was more than just about music. It was about how music reflected a change in culture. It was one of the first forms of music where white and black musicians coexisted to make to make something that was universal, not just defined by the color of the skin of who was making it.
Recently Brubeck gave an interview to the New York Times on what jazz meant to him.
“One of the reasons I believe in jazz,” he said, “is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear.”
Let’s hope it was the last sound he heard — he deserved it.
Todd has only met one jazz great, but has plent of anecdotes about sports interviews that have gone awry. Follow him on Twitter @blasterdog.
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