sat 29/11/2014

Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012 | New music reviews, news & interviews

Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Jamie Cullum recalls working with the jazz legend, who died today

Dave Brubeck: 'super, super cool'

In 2009 I interviewed Jamie Cullum about Dave Brubeck, who has died today just a day before his 92nd birthday. What follows are Cullum's recollections of falling in love with Brubeck's music, and later knowing and working with a jazz legend.

"My parents weren’t into jazz at all, but my dad did have a tape of Dave Brubeck and, as most people did, loved "Take Five". I heard that in the car long before my jazz awakening through Herbie Hancock and the Headhunters and In A Silent Way - swampy, odd music. Dave was on my radar long before that.

I’m very fond of playing those stabbing, sharp notes, and that’s definitely a Brubeckian thing

I wrongly dismissed him because I read too many jazz things, I was into Monk and Bill Evans and he seemed very different to what I was into. When you are a young and impressionable jazz fan you look for the most esoteric and obviously hip things, and he didn’t seem to be pushing the boundaries in ways that I thought were cool in my head at the time – and of course, I was unbelievably wrong. It all gradually began to make sense to me when I heard a live album, Live at the Blue Note, and I realised what his signature sound, that very blocked chordy, classical, very rigorously ryhthmic style, was as trailblazing as anybody.

He’s done all this amazing religious music in the past two decades. I found this incredible piece of music that his wife had written lyrics for and it made me realise the level of composer he is, as well as a player and a commercial success. It was interesting to read about someone in the jazz world who had hit the charts, and to see how that was accepted, or shall we say, not accepted by the jazz fraternity.

After I really got into him I had the chance to meet him. He heard me when he was in England and asked to meet me in a house he was staying at in Maida Vale. I had a cup of tea with him and his wife, he asked me what I was doing and he said he liked my album, and he gave me some lead sheets of songs he had written, some that hadn’t been recorded, some with new lyrics by his wife, and that was the beginning of our friendship.

About a year and a half later I was playing at the Newport Jazz Festival. As I was playing my first tune I looked across to the side of the stage and there was Dave Brubeck, and he watched my entire gig. I was shaking in my boots! It was one of slightly more insane shows, and he came up to me after and he said, “I really like it when you play ballads, you play beautiful ballads.”

He’s super, super cool. I don’t mean that as a throwaway – he’s proper cool. Very relaxed, very low voice, he just has this air of brilliance hovering around him. "Take Five" is a staple while remaining a true piece of jazz music. The most interesting part is working out why that particular tune was such a hit and why it continues to resonate with people who are not jazz fans. I know it was written by Paul Desmond but it’s got the stamp of Dave Brubeck all over it. Playing a 5/4 groove takes a great deal of practice and persistence, and yet it’s done so simply. It paved the way for the "Pyramid Song"!

He comes from the school of supremely perfected and honed skill; my thing is much more off the cuff. He can caress the piano, but he also attacks the piano, quite often in quite an unsubtle way, and I’ve definitely brought some of that into my own playing. I’m very fond of playing those stabbing, sharp notes, and that’s definitely a Brubeckian thing.

I guess he isn’t as mysterious – the horn-rimmed glasses college guy, he didn’t have the mystery of Miles or Coltrane, didn’t have a drug habit, has been married to the same woman for years. The iconography isn’t quite as strong, but musically he is revered the world over and quite rightly."

Musically he is revered the world over and quite rightly

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