The great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck passed away on Dec. 5, 2012 at the age of 91. Over the years I had the privilege of meeting Mr. Brubeck on several occasions and can attest to his warmth, graciousness, and enthusiasm. My experiences with him range from performing his own music for him while I was in college, to asking him for lessons at a rehearsal in Cincinnati (he replied, “Why don’t you teach me?”), to discussing a choral concert we had just heard (after 3 hours of music, he was still hungry for more!). I would, however, like to relate one special encounter in which he demonstrated his great kindness and generosity.
In the mid-1980’s, I played piano in a Connecticut-based vocal/instrumental group called Grand Central. We formed while at the University of CT, landed some fairly big gigs such as the New Haven Jazz Festival, and continued to play for a few years post-graduation.
Sometime around 1987-88, we were asked to open for the Dave Brubeck Quartet at a fundraiser in Weston, CT. After our soundcheck, we were taken to the dressing room to meet Dave and his band. Wearing a robe and reclining on the sofa, Dave was polite but seemed too tired to be effusive. We exchanged pleasantries and left the room to get ready to perform. As we were announced, I heard the unmistakeable sound of a large audience applauding. I had to walk all the way across the stage to the piano, and as I got about halfway across, I began to hear a solitary person clapping. It was coming from the darkness offstage just beyond the piano, out of the audience’s sightline. As I got closer, I was amazed to see Dave Brubeck himself, standing a few feet from the piano, clapping enthusiastically and giving me the biggest smile imaginable! The same person who, 15 minutes earlier seemed too tired to socialize, had apparently summoned an inner reserve of energy and decided to give this young pianist a precious gift of support and encouragement. I will always be thankful for that. Mr. Brubeck, you will be missed but not forgotten!
Get my free ebook: Left Hand Techniques for Jazz Piano
You’ll also get my weekly jazz newsletter with practice tips and inspiration