My Mentor, My Collaborator, My Father: Dave Brubeck

My Mentor, My Collaborator, My Father: Dave Brubeck

Dave and Chris leaving the stage together a couple of years ago at the Detroit Jazz Festival. Photo by Marty Rickard. Courtesy Tish Brubeck.

Some fathers and sons are lucky enough to have great relationships from childhood to the very end. I’m in that fortunate group. My dad and I did many fantastic things together, from playing jazz gigs all over the world in the very best concert halls, to playing on the edge of our seats during recording sessions that still sound vibrant, to sharing the joy of sitting on the stage surrounded by orchestra and chorus performing not only jazz charts but also my father’s significant body of sacred music. I witnessed his evolution from a jazz musician who could improvise or write a beautiful tune at the drop of a hat to a composer who learned how to orchestrate and slave over score paper for endless hours. As I got older we shared a special composers’ bond when Dave came brimming with enthusiasm to the premieres of orchestral pieces I had been commissioned to write. At this age many in my generation are experiencing the loss of their parents. My situation is a bit different than most because not only did I lose a father, but I lost a dear friend and musical partner. We have been recording, performing, and writing together for over 40 years.

Dave, Dan & Chris

Dave Brubeck with his sons Dan and Chris. Photo courtesy Tish Brubeck.

The last recording my dad made was Triple Play – Live at Zankel Music Center with my eclectic Blues/Jazz/Folk/Funk group. Believe it or not, Dave would still get nervous, even at 90! He was our musical guest and we wanted him to play loose and relaxed. Therefore we didn’t tell him we were secretly recording the concert. Sometimes, you gotta roll the dice. He played his ass off! Weeks later he told me he wished we had recorded that gig. What a joy it was to play the tapes for him of the concert he thought was lost to the ethos. He agreed it was damn good and exciting enough to share with others. The terrific reviews prove it is not just a proud son singing his dad’s praises.

One of the last concerts my father played was with me and my brothers on Father’s Day, June 19, 2011, at Ravinia outside of Chicago. I think it was fitting that our father, the family man, played his last American gig with his sons. My youngest brother Matthew plays jazz cello, Dan is on drums, Darius is also on piano, and I’m on electric fretless bass and trombone. It was a joy to perform Dave’s inspiring compositions. We made some beautiful music together, got a great review from the Chicago Tribune and then our old man went to Montreal for his last gig before “hanging up his spurs.”

Young Brubeck Brothers

An early outing of Dave Brubeck and his sons, the Brubeck Brothers: (from left to right) Dan, Chris, their friend Jim Montgomery, Darius, and Dave. Photo courtesy Tish Brubeck.

The last major piece my father and I composed together premiered in 2009. I had received a commission to write an orchestral tone poem inspired by 101 Ansel Adams photographs that were to be projected over the orchestra. I brought my dad into the piece because I wanted to experience the joy of working with him on one more project before it was too late. Some sons go camping or on a fishing trip with their fathers when they know that time is winding down. I wanted to create a new musical work with my dad. He insisted he was too old to get involved, but my wife and I got my mother to read Ansel Adams’s autobiography to Dave. He started to see the similarities between Ansel and himself: The fact that Ansel was a budding concert pianist before he became a photographer was enticing. So was the fact that both Dave and Ansel grew up in Northern California. Both had learning disabilities that were greatly alleviated through the process of learning to play the piano. Their creativity germinated in relative isolation (my dad grew up as a cowboy on a 45,000-acre ranch and Ansel fell in love with the stunning landscapes of Yosemite) and their talents helped to transform their genres and built bridges that delivered a new perception of jazz and photography as “legitimate” art forms. Dad resonated with Ansel Adams’s story and finally we won him over. I am proud of the piece we composed together which has been played dozens of times and just had its very successful European premiere. Dad was too frail to make the West Coast premiere, but was finally able see a performance for the first time when the Temple University Orchestra played Ansel Adams: America at Lincoln Center. An excellent recording was made by the gifted young players at Temple and it was released a few months ago. But the story doesn’t end there.

When my father had a heart attack on the morning of December 5, he was just one day shy of his 92nd birthday. After a Christmas concert with Triple Play in Nebraska the night before, I was driving on a highway to the Omaha airport when I got a call from my wife, Tish, telling me that my dad had been rushed to the hospital by ambulance. About a half hour later a second call delivered the numbing news that he didn’t make it. The highway just kept coming at me in hypnotic rhythm as I tried to wrap my head around this new reality. I always thought Dave would go on tour sometime and just never come back. He belonged to the road and to the world, it seemed, as much as he belonged to our family. It was surreal, he wasn’t on the road this time but I was–literally. After five hours in the car and two flights, I finally got home to my parents’ house pretty late at night. There was a tearful reunion with my family comforting each other with loving hugs. About midnight Tish and I got back to our own house nearby. I opened up my computer for the first time that day and was overwhelmed by the emails that cascaded in from all over the world. One caught my eye because it said “Congratulations.” This seemed a bit out of place, so I opened it. This is how I learned that just hours after my dad left the planet Ansel Adams: America had received a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Composition. This felt like my dad was winking at me, grinning and giving me a congratulatory hug from the other side. It was a beautiful lift when my spirits were sagging and it helps me believe in magic and miracles and to keep looking at life in a positive light. My dad always did. He overcame a lot of things and had tremendous inner strength. He loved the old standard “Sunny Side of The Street” and just for kicks he would often romp through it with unbridled joy.

For those of you who didn’t know him, here are some things I learned from my “old man” that might interest you and maybe even help you as you try to lead a musical life path.

Find a great partner to share your life with. In my dad’s case it was my mother, Iola Whitlock. Because his mother, my Grandma Bessie, insisted he endure one of college’s rituals, he reluctantly went to the senior dance. My dad was already doing lots of little jazz gigs. He was happy playing but very uncomfortable at the thought of dancing. Therefore, he asked around the campus to see who was the smartest and most intelligent conversationalist. Turns out that there was a drama major named Iola Whitlock who was smart as a whip and beautiful too. Iola and Dave went to the dance, talked all night, never danced, and when the sun came up had decided then and there to get married. Over the decades she supported my father’s dreams, wrote a lot of great lyrics and librettos, and never doubted his creative vision. She even managed him at first, and was the first person to come up with the idea of presenting jazz concerts on college campuses. She somehow found the time to raise us six kids, too! My parents were married an astounding 70 years, and what a spectacular adventure they had!

Family Business

The family business–Dave Brubeck on piano with four of his children: Dan on drums, Mike on sax, Darius on trumpet, and Chris on the piano bench behind Dave. Photo courtesy Tish Brubeck.

Value what is original about your approach to music. After World War II, my dad studied at Mills College on the GI Bill with the French composer Darius Milhaud. Milhaud had fled the Nazis when they took Paris and ended up in California teaching at Mills. My father had dreams of learning how to write in the sophisticated European tradition. Milhaud scolded him, saying that the only original thing about American music was jazz and he should try to incorporate that wonderful language into the symphonic realm. My dad followed his advice, eventually teaming up with Leonard Bernstein in some of the earliest collaborations that featured the integration of the classical and jazz genres. Dave went on to write many beautiful cantatas for orchestra, chorus, and jazz group.

Stick to your guns. Dave had exactly two lessons with Arnold Schoenberg in L.A. At the end of the first lesson he was told to write something and bring it back for the second lesson. Dave was proud of what he wrote and when he played it for Schoenberg the next week, A.S. stopped him in the first bar demanding to know why Dave chose the 2nd note he had written. My dad replied “because it sounded good.” Schoenberg went on a tirade saying that that was not a good enough reason to choose a note. Dad dared to ask what made him the sole arbiter of what was a right or wrong note. Schoenberg pointed to the tall book cases filled with scores that lined his studio and said he knew more about Western music than anyone else alive and that is why he had the authority to enforce his musical opinions. For better or worse that was Dave’s last lesson with the great Schoenberg. The rest of dad’s life he kept creating his melodies because of their emotional meaning to him. His intuitive melodic and harmonic instincts served him well and as a member of his band I have witnessed him improvise gorgeous and moving music countless times. When I heard this passionate music come out of him (and Milhaud was also impressed by this innate ability) it would occur to me that my dad was a genius. Thinking back though, in my father’s first major oratorio, The Light in the Wilderness, which is a very tonal piece based on the teachings of Jesus, he created a passage where the twelve disciples were introduced by each singing their own note in a twelve-tone row. It was quite dramatic especially when Judas starting singing “Repent” on a high and straining dissonant note. So something rubbed off from his Schoenberg encounter.

Being a composer is time consuming and is hard work. My dad fell way short in the carousing department. He left that to his friend and musical partner, Paul Desmond. They lived vicariously through each other, Paul being the swinging jazz bachelor with a penchant for Dewars Scotch and serial, intelligent, cutting-edge women. I think a part of Paul always thought of us kids and my mother as his surrogate family. Dave would not hang out and drink or whatever with the other musicians. He would go home to his wife and kids and work. He toured so much that he learned out of necessity to start writing on airplanes. When he was home, people were amazed to see that he had an upright piano elevated on woodblocks so that it would be at the best height for him to ride his stationary bike and pump his legs quickly while he simultaneously practiced piano and composed. That man could compress time one way or another.

Perseverance. In the early days my dad was leading a group of musicians who were all former students of Milhaud. It was known as The Octet. They played very interesting music, but only got three gigs in a year. So Dave started doing trio gigs in the Bay Area. One early joint was the Burma Lounge in Oakland. Clint Eastwood told me he used to sneak in as a kid to see my old man. When Dad tried to add Desmond to the group the club owner said it was ruining the band. But they stuck together and it was obvious they had a special sound and it needed to be recorded. Dad went to every record company trying to get signed. They all turned him down. We were really poor in those early days. When we went on the road, we would stay in old hotels that had cavernous closets—most times the closets were the best thing going for them. My older brothers Darius and Mike traveled with sleeping bags for those closets, that was their part of the “suite.” My parents got the bed and when I was a baby apparently I fit nicely in the dresser drawer with some blankets piled underneath me. We thought it was fun—indoor camping! We saved money up as a family because dad had to start his own record company to get his music out there. Perhaps you have heard of it—Fantasy Records! His partners were sons of a man who owned a record pressing plant. Dave supplied the talent, and they manufactured the recordings. Critics noticed, and the vinyl started moving. Then his partners screwed him out of the company. He was thrown off his own label due to some legal shenanigans. But once he was forced out of Fantasy, Columbia Records signed him and with their mammoth distribution the rest is history. By the way, his groundbreaking LP Time Out was held back by Columbia for a couple of years because it broke all the rules. The music was in odd time signatures, it was all original compositions instead of “show tunes” (songs for which Columbia owned a piece of the publishing), and did not have a foxy girl on the cover but had modern art instead. Columbia’s marketing department didn’t know what to do with it. Goddard Lieberson intervened. That was back in the days when musicians, not lawyers and accountants, ran record companies. Goddard went against the rest of Columbia and told them to put it out. Ironically, for a long time people resented Time Out’s enormous commercial success and held it against dad. But he was just pursuing his vision and created something so original that it succeeded against all odds. It all happened because he got screwed out of Fantasy Records. You never know: In the long run, a setback can be a blessing in disguise. Keep the faith!

Stay Humble. Though my dad ended up playing for presidents, the Pope, kings, and queens, he never lost his respect for the average Joe. One of his favorite people to hang out with was a gardener who helped take care of things at home when dad was on the road. This old Italian knew the earth and it wasn’t because he had a degree in botany—he just loved the land, and so did my dad. Dad grew up as a cowboy and would vividly describe to us when he used to work for a dollar a day from sunrise to sunset. He lived through the Great Depression. He made it through World War II. He could never understand how Christian civilizations that purported to follow the teachings of Christ could do such horrible things to each other. During the war, he vowed that if he lived, he would write music that would help illuminate the true teachings of Christ. He reached tens of thousands of people with his “classical music” and reminded people of the teachings of Jesus the philosopher, not Jesus the icon of “Churchianity.” He very, very rarely had an unkind word for anyone. It was a bit infuriating sometimes; he was so noncommittal in his analysis of some of the people we had to deal with. I have a more mercurial tongue and if I ever ventured a negative opinion about someone he would say, “Yes, and that is his mother sitting right behind you.” He set a very high bar in that department.

Dave & Chris

Dave Brubeck at the piano and Chris Brubeck on trombone in a performance with the Bachiana Filarmonica conducted by Joao Carlos Martins at Avery Fisher Hall on October 2, 2009. Photo by Fernando Mucci. Courtesy Tish Brubeck.

You have no idea what your music means to someone else. We did a tour of Russia in 1987. I remember leaving at five in the morning on a bus that was in front of our hotel which would take us to the airport. It was bitter cold, and an older woman had been standing outside our bus hoping to possibly see Dave when he came out to the bus to leave. She had a medal on a chain that she gave to dad because her deceased husband had loved his music so much, and she had promised her husband that she would somehow find a way to give his medal to my father. It was very moving and I felt for this woman. Compassion about fans was bred into our family at a very early age. This is a true story:

One Christmas Eve as our family sat around in our California home in the late ‘50s my father got a phone call. He came back with a remarkable expression on his face. He told us kids to quiet down and told us a longer version of this story. Someone in New York City had just called to say that a man had crawled out on a ledge to end his life by jumping many floors to the cold asphalt below. Police officers and a police psychiatrist tried to talk the man down off the ledge but he was just so despondent they didn’t succeed. Friends were called in and asked if they would come to the apartment and try to talk to him and get him to come back inside. Nothing had worked and the situation seemed grim. Dad was called because a friend of a friend knew the person who said the words that finally got the jumper to come back inside. He apparently was told: “If you jump, you won’t hear Dave Brubeck’s next album.” That motivated the man to come back inside. Years later, this story sounds like a New Yorker cartoon, but at the time my dad was in such a state of wonderment that it made me see, from my six-year-old perspective, that we are all connected in hard to fathom ways.

You have no idea what your words may mean to some else. A few years ago, when my dad was already older, he agreed to sit with Ken Burns and his crew to talk about his memories and the meaning of jazz in America. I wasn’t there (madly writing on deadline across town) but later in the day I called dad and asked him how the interview went. My father told me that he blew it. I asked him what he meant by that. He said that he talked about racism in America and recalled the story of how his father, Grandpa Pete (the Cowboy), took my dad as a kid to see a man Pete knew. Pete also knew that this person had been branded when he had been a slave. Pete told my dad that that was no way to ever treat fellow human beings. Then this fellow took off his shirt and showed little Dave the brand burned into him. When my dad relayed that story on camera, he got deeply emotional and cried. That’s why my dad said he blew it. But when the Ken Burns series about jazz came out, Ken himself told me that the story Dave told and his anguish which was caught on camera became the emotional centerpiece of the entire documentary. My father’s humanity came through loud and clear in that segment. Another crazy thing came out of it, too. Many of the jazz critics who saw that film and kind of enjoyed beating up my dad or dismissing him in print for his vast popularity over the last 50 years were also moved. There was a very public reassessment of Dave’s talents, originality, durability, and humanity. The family man who was too good to be true maybe really was a great guy who was too good to be true. It is not his fault that he created music that lots of people loved.

I could go on and on describing some of the great things my father did and said to many over his 90+ years. What I have written here is the tip of the iceberg. My mother has been working on a book for the last several years and she had pretty much finished it in the last few months. She chose to end the book at the Kennedy Center Honors, which may have been the pinnacle of Dad’s remarkable life. In addition to Bill Charlap, Jon Faddis, Christian McBride, Miguel Xenon, Bill Stewart, and Herbie Hancock, the producers wanted to surprise Dave by having my brothers and I play during the concert. Dave had originally requested that we play but was “turned down” by the director, to Dave’s great disappointment. However, there was a deep conspiracy between the producers and me and my three brothers. Even our own sister and my son who lives in Washington didn’t know, and certainly mom and dad had no clue that we were going to play. You can see the moment the camera caught dad in disbelief as he sat in the box next to Obama. Watch and you will see the old Cowboy mouth the words, “Son of a bitch!!!”

Excerpts from the Kennedy Center Honors program honoring Dave Brubeck

What a night that was. It was full cycle and poignant. Dave fought hard for civil rights in the ‘40s and ‘50s and here he was hanging out with our first African-American president. In his first book Dreams from My Father, Obama describes his father (whom he saw only a few days in his life) taking him to see his first jazz concert in Honolulu, which happened to be my dad, my brothers, and I playing together those many years ago.

I’ll leave you with one of my dad’s favorite lines, which was what Eubie Blake said on the occasion of his 100th birthday tribute: “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!”

No one lives forever, my dad did his best and led an astounding life. It was great to be on that incredible ride with him.

Kennedy Center Boys

Honoring Dave Brubeck at the Kennedy Center Awards (L-R): Bill Charlap, Miguel Xenon, Darius Brubeck, Chris Brubeck, Matthew Brubeck, Dan Brubeck, and Herbie Hancock. Photo by Dave Barrett, courtesy Tish Brubeck.

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

45 thoughts on “My Mentor, My Collaborator, My Father: Dave Brubeck

    1. Mark Waldrep

      In 1985 I sat at my office desk and the phone rang. I picked up the handset and said, “Hello”. The voice on the other end of the phone said, “Hello, this is Dave Brubeck”. To say that I was caught off guard would be the understatement of my life! Dave Brubeck got my number from one of my students and called me for some help with a MIDI problem he was having. He invited me and my wife to visit him at a UCLA/Royce Hall concert. I met Dave, his wife and the whole family. This was truly one of the most memorable moments in my life…a beautiful soul, a gloriously original musician, a father and devoted husband…Dave Brubeck is one of my heroes.

    2. Michael Breaux

      Dear Chris,
      You have done what so few are able to do effectively: create a very moving tribute to your father without being overly emotional. I’m so very moved by your honesty and love and just wanted you to know that so many of us who only knew your dad (and his music) feel about his music in the ways you describe. I’m honored to know you and make music with you. This is one of the best tributes I’ve ever read and underscore what I know about you: the apple did not fall very far from the tree!

      You are one in a million! My best to you and your family.
      Michael Breaux

    3. mark king

      A great composer, a great pianist , a great mentor, a great family man and overall a fantastic human being. I am just starting to learn about Dave Brubeck , I am so lucky to have so much more to learn.

  1. Beata Moon

    Thank you so much for sharing your memories and the words of wisdom from your dad. What a beautiful, moving, inspiring story! Thank you for this gift. Best wishes to everyone!

  2. Alvaro Gallegos

    This one of the most valuable articles I’ve ever seen in the NMBx.

    It’s absolutely inspiring to read all this stories.

    Thank you, Chris. I’m very proud that I was able to attend that concert with the Bachiana Filarmonica in 2009, where I met both you and your dad. There I was able to tell Dave how important has been his sacred music in my life.

    A great tribute to this American master.

  3. David White

    I am very grateful for the brief conversations I was privileged to have had with your father. His musicianship is unequaled and his humanity and warmth are legendary in my heart.

    Thank you for sharing some of your life with your father.

    David White

  4. Doug Potter

    Thank you so much for sharing this, I will have to read it over and over it is that good, I listened to Dave from about 1955 when I was just thirteen years old, and I wont stop now, respect to your fantastic family.

  5. Deolu A.

    A man I deeply respect. Creative, and morally sound. Genius, but a good human being too. An inspiration that demonstrated anyone CAN be good at work and at home, in public and in private, if they really set their mind to it. Your father was…IS a blessing, and I thank God he lived. Thanks for sharing these details Mr Chris: they only increase his loving memories.

  6. Valerie Bishop

    Thank you so much, Chris, for sharing from your heart and memories. I am so grateful that I first got to hear your Dad at the Newport Jazz Festival in the ’50s and was fortunate enough to hear him for the last time at Monterey a few years ago. Inbetween I enjoyed lots of performances and even got to interact with him several times. Just from those few up-close experiences, I could tell he was an extraordinary man. God bless him and his extraordinary family forever.

  7. David Fish

    Thank you Chris for the wonderfuly written tribute to your Dad, and for sharing your special relationship with us. My thoughts are with you and your family.

  8. Bob Anderson

    Thanks for those stories, Chris. Jazz Goes to College was the very first jazz record I bought. My alto sax teacher recommended it, and Paul Desmond became my idol. I did see the Quartet at Carnegie Hall–not the one that was put on record, and treasure that night.

    Truly one of the greats of jazz piano I always describe him as a pianist who seemed to think ahead. It might take 3-4 choruses to make his points (and wonderful points they were) maybe in the way that the top chess players thinks 3-4 moves ahead. I can’t think of any of his peers who played in that manner.

    As for the Eubie Blake quotation–I have heard BB King say several times, on his xmRadio program, that while recording his duet with Ray Charles’ on his last recording–just weeks before he died–“BB, if we knew we were going to live this long we’d have taken better care of ourselves.” So I’m not sure who “stole” whose quote from whom!

    As for your father, he clearly took care of himself, and of the art form he has towered over. He was, I believe, the last of the true greats of his generation–those folks that Duke would say were, “beyond category.”

  9. Wilford and Beverly Brimley

    What a beautiful tribute to your wonderful dad! Getting to know him and your mom has been such a thrill just as blessings have flowed to us by having you and Tish as special friends. God bless you all……and thanks for this wonderful sharing of your extraordinary relationship with your dad.

  10. Michael Robinson

    This was tremendously meaningful to read, Chris. If I had been fortunate enough to interview your Dad, I would have asked him about one of the greatest jazz albums of all time that is mostly overlooked: Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, which includes several exquisite modal improvisations that interestingly predate the Kind of Blue album by Miles Davis, and was recorded the same year as Milestones. (The Brubeck pieces in question are purely modal, while the Davis modal works modulate to different tonal centers.) One wonders what influence, if any, Brubeck, Davis, and their musician colleagues – all the releases in question are on Columbia – may have had on each other. What superb judgment on your father’s part to collaborate with one of the most arresting improvisers jazz has known, Paul Desmond, who played the alto saxophone almost like a clarinet, not to mention his god-like tone, and two of its most thrilling drummers, Joe Morello and Alan Dawson, who also possessed unsurpassed timbral virtues. I look forward to exploring more music by your Dad, and yourself too.

  11. Curt Z.

    Hi Chris,
    Nice heartfelt article. Matt and I were buddies in grade school and I used to hang out over at your house in Wilton back around ’69-’70. I was hoping to see some family photos that also included Matt. Anyway, my deepest condolences on the passing of your father. I never got the chance to apologize for messing up his sheet music in his study on that one rainy Sunday.

  12. Mervon Mehta

    Dear Chris
    Thank you for this, it brought a tear to my eye. I am a concert presenter who had the privilege of presenting your Dad on many occasions. His last Toronto gig was in my hall in June 2011. Matt was there on cello.

    Two of my fondest memories… Backstage at Ravinia after a concert many musicians were hanging out telling stories, playing. Dave had just released his cd where he wrote tunes based on other musicians names. “Joe Lovano” became a tango tune etc. We all sat around the piano listening to Dave play…Roy Hargrove, Junior Mance, Joe, and many others. Emily, a Ravinia staff member, was also there. Dave asked her her name and proceeded to improvise a tune on her name. I’ll never forget her smile or her beet red face as Dave Brubeck played just for her.

    A few years later at the Kimmel Center in Philly I presented a night with the quartet and Marian McPartland. I think counted 350 years of jazz on the bandstand that night. It was also Dave’s birthday and we got a cake backstage. Somewhere there is a photo of Marian shoving a forkful of cake into your Dad’s mouth while Iola laughed in the background.

    I feel blessed to have known him as many presenters did for a wonderful day once every year or so.

  13. Gale Davis

    A quick story about your Dad. I attended a concert by the original DB Quartet in 1959 at The Senator Hotel in Sacramento. A large meeting room was packed to the wall with fans. The concert, set to begin at 7:30, still had not started by 8:00. The college age crowd was getting restless. Your Dad finally took the mike and told us that Morello had a flat tire driving up from LA on Hwy 99. He said he had sent Desmond off to pick him up. He said a Dave Brubeck duo would not be very entertaining, and asked if their was a drummer in the house. A young man was pushed forward by his classmates. I remember his name as “Harnishfeger” or somehting similar. He was reluctant, but finally climbed up and took a seat at the drum set. Your Dad started out slow with an easy rendition of Time Out. And the drummer did just fine keeping up. At some point, your Dad decided to “trade 8’s” with this guy to see what he had. The young drummer never missed a beat or a cue. When the song ended, he got a standing ovation. Not only from the crowd, but from your Dad. I always looked for the guy to surface in the Jazz world with that crazy name, but he never did. I was so lucky to have witnessed such a beautiful musical moment.
    Gale Davis Pasadena CA

  14. Don Th. Jaeger

    Chris: What a beautifully written tribute! And how I treasure my association with your Dad (and Mom) in the commissioning and conducting the world premiere of “Truth” way back in 1971. Subsequent performances were always a great joy – as knowing the Brubeck family has been. Dave will be missed by all of us who knew him and all those across the globe who loved his music. – Don Th. Jaeger

    1. Alvaro Gallegos

      Mr. Jaeger, the other day I heard “Truth Is Fallen”. It was the only piece that I could think of, to relief my shock after hearing the news of the Connecticut tragedy.

      It must have been a tremendous honour to have conducted that world premiere!

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  16. Fred Schilling

    Thanks so much for sharing such a beautiful story. Sometimes God lets the really “special people” stay with us for a long time. Lucky for all of us!

  17. trumpet books

    I salute your father and your relation. I am very much inspired by reading his story and his achievements. You have contributed alot to jazz music. This blog is very inspiring. I’m a trumpeter and love jazz music.

  18. Jennifer Gerth

    Dear Chris,

    What a touching and tremendously written tribute to your father! I bawled from the second sentence through the rest of the article. Speaking of making an impact….the faculty at Birch Creek are still writing limericks each year in your honor! What a wonderful gift to the world that the best of both your parents lives on in you!

  19. Jack Reilly

    Dave Brubeck has been an inspiration to me since the mid-50’s and now that he has formed a new quartet “up stairs”, I want to express my gratitude to him for the many beautiful compositions he gave me and the world. He was an innovative and original pianist and a leader of the most beloved and most famous quartet in the world. Talk about legacies, Dave’s output is enormous and immeasurable!

    But more so than all of the above, and because of a book project, I got to know and speak with Dave many, many times this past year and I soon realized that Dave Brubeck the man, was full of joy, kindness and a humble human being. He knew that his mission in life was monumental and that is was a Sacred mission and that the Music that came to him naturally was God given. He knew it was a great responsibility on his shoulders to become a conduit for the Creator and that he must use the time given to him in this life wisely in order to give back to humanity the music that the Creator had “given” him.

    Dave Brubeck has re-joined the “lineage” of Masters and will continue his work unseen to us. But our 3rd dimensional world has been Blessed by the 91 + years he lived among us.

    I will miss you Dave and I will continue to be inspired by your life and your music. Your family of talented offsprings I am sure, will continue making great music in your name. His Holy partnership of 70+ years with his wife Iola is a special inspiration to me and my wife Carol, and I pray that it to becomes a model to all couples.

    Respectfully submitted,


    DECEMBER 22, 2012

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  22. Stephen Puerini

    There is an anonymous poem that begins,
    “It is a fearful thing to love what death can touch……..”. It continues……
    “For your life has lived in me, your laugh once lifted me, your word was gift to me. To remember this brings painful joy.
    “Tis a human thing, love, a holy thing to love what death has touched”
    Your father was a gift to you and to so many others in so many ways. And you, a gift to him.
    Beautiful tribute!

  23. CrissieP

    I think that people accept the fact that great artists are also often tortured, ego-driven people and that the eccentric and often dark aspects of the personalities of artists are just something that goes along with great artistry. I think the thing that is so intriguing and frankly wonderful about Dave Brubeck is that he possessed true artistic genius while appearing to be a happy person with an enviable family life. It is a pleasure to listen to his music, look at his photos, and read about his life. Thanks so much for this lovely window inside.

  24. Norma Carter

    In the mid 50s my friend and I cut classes and drove to Houston to hear your dad. We were 15, musicians, and were blown away. His music gave sound to our thoughts. Thank you for your inspiring tribute to such a special human being. I happened to see a special on a friends TV with your family creating joy still! Thank you!

  25. Dave Barrett

    Hi, Chris….

    We love and we learn in our lifetimes. When I hear your Dad play or speak, I love it. And I have learned from it.

    And that keeps coming when I hear your compositions, your performances, and your conversations.

    This is a beautiful remembrance and it is so comforting. May you and your family be comforted knowing that all that effort and love that Dave put forth is coming back to you.

  26. Hillary Mapes Levine

    let it in….deep inside…. that’s where it goes until it finds it’s own unique path out…. musical soul path no doubt. RIP. Best to you Chris, Tish, your kids, brothers, and their families as well. What a ride. Special. Blessings. Positively Terrific ….Papa Thanks…..

  27. Joyce Barrett


    I really enjoyed reading your thoughts, feelings and stories about your dad and family.
    Thank you for sharing that with us. It helps all of us to feel better. We will miss him.

  28. Kat Fritz

    It was a pleasure and a great honor to meet you and your brother this Summer. I have been a fan of your father’s music for many years. Thank you for sharing some of your memories and stories from your family life. We will miss him, but his spirit lives on through your music.

  29. Judianne Parlas Meadow

    I was blessed to have worked your Dad, you, and your brothers, Darius and Dan on the world premier of The Holy One in Honolulu, Hawaii on 23 December 1976 … which was also my 23rd birthday. The opportunity to perform with all of you on that evening was the very best birthday gift I’ve ever received and a memory I will cherish forever. I will never forget how down to earth and wonderful your entire family was and how your very famous Dad took a time during a break in our rehearsal to talk to a few of the members of the orchestra and chorus individually. I was one of the chorus members fortunate enough to have been approached by him for a few treasured minutes of conversation. I was just a young soprano from the University of Hawaii School of Music, so for me, that moment in my life was tantamount to touching heaven and earth all at once. Thank you so much for all you and your family have contributed to the world, and may you continue to do so for many generations to come.

  30. John Salmon

    Only today (Aug. 30th, 2013) have I read this incredibly personal, moving testimony. Thank you, Chris, for writing it. Hope to run into you and the other Brubecks soon.

  31. Sam Spritzer

    How in the world could I have missed this article??? What an awesomely spectacular piece….just like everything your dad did! I miss him. Oh and, please do come back to Buffalo…

  32. Nina Beck

    Hello, Chris, & the rest of your musical family –

    Although you don’t know me – there’s something I’d like to send you: a photo of a praiseful postcard from your father to me, from May 6, 1985 after I sent him a cassette of myself playing “In Your Own Sweet Way”as closely as I could to his playing of it – nowhere near that level, but with the improvisatory ideas in each repeat of the tune “mimicked” to the best of my ability, by listening to it over & over, never having had any music for it. I included the stamped, self-addressed postcard and a note or letter with the cassette, and sent it to his management. And I got the postcard back!

    Your late father was the very first jazz artist to whom I was introduced by the young manager of a record store, Kappy’s, way over on west 42nd St. in NYC, circa 1972, when I was about 17. He and I had quite a liking for one another even though it was kept at a friendship level – but that didn’t impede my being recommended by him to some of the most absolutely incredible artists of the time, and of ALL time – so I acquired some of the best jazz LPs of the time. I attended CCNY, New York from 1973 to 1978 & got a BA in Music, & had attended the HS of Music & Art before that. Career-wise, I’ve always performed, but on the side – once I moved to the Los Angeles area in 1980, I made a living as an admin. assistant in office jobs; but music has always been my first passion, and after 30 years performing, I’m up to a list of apx. 900 songs in any key without music, of which apx. 80% are Great American Songbook swing, classic Latin, and jazz standards. Others: ’50’s to ’80’s oldies. I work with singer/comedy writer/producer Andy Cowan.

    As a pianist with absolute pitch who had moved out of playing classical music into teaching myself to read chords (from a small chord book) so I could develop my own arrangements of American Songbook swing tunes and ballads, and many show tunes from then-recent decades (I had a few black market Real Books, and many songbooks from famous musicals), I was thrilled to have this wealth of engaging music, by trios and quartets. Besides your dad’s Greatest Hits LP, I acquired The Bill Evans Album (wow!), two by Oscar Peterson, and one each of Erroll Garner, Art Tatum, and Bud Powell. All equaled “Wow!” for me – I was in jazz heaven, as I began exploring its harmonies (I took jazz theory later, in college). I also wound up with a Marian McPartland LP – great. A younger pianist I was glad to be introduced to was Monty Alexander, who added another dimension to my edification – wow!

    So I hope you’ll send me an e-mail address to where I can send this photo. It will be an honor to have you & your family see the post card. I cherish it immensely and am glad I never lost it in 32 years. It helped that I had framed it – still, after several moves, anything can happen. Sharing it with you and the rest of the family of the musical giant Dave Brubeck will mean a great deal to me. It’s wonderful that you are at the top of your game as a top professional musician, and so are several of your brothers, each with different but some similar areas of expertise – I read about you and a little about them, and learned that you play many instruments and that you’re a composer…I checked out this site: and really enjoy your style of music on it! I plan to listen to yours and your brothers’ renditions of some of your father’s fantastic tunes.

    I work Sunday evenings in a Dixieland and swing sextet at Casey’s Tavern in Canoga Park, CA, the Jelly Roll Jass Band, led by noted trumpeter Woody James; and the drummer also sings and plays all the harmonicas really well (besides being a recording engineer & a photographer), and this is a style I know he loves – so I’m going to share that site with him (his name is Michael Rosen, of Hollywood, CA).

    OK, well – thank you for reading this, and looking forward to hopefully being able to share your dad’s post card if I may!


    Nina Beck, Pianist & Vocalist
    “Nearly 900 songs in any key without music!…” (visible; but hasn’t been updated in awhile) / On LinkedIn:


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