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The legendary Dave Brubeck returns to the DPAC

Analise Lipari | Thursday, October 18, 2007

To be honest, there are only so many ways to describe jazz pianist Dave Brubeck without returning to a single conclusion – quite simply, the man is a legend in his own time. Brubeck returns to the Leighton Concert Hall at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center tonight with the Dave Brubeck Quartet for what will undoubtedly be an evening of uniquely beautiful music.What makes Brubeck’s performance at Notre Dame more interesting to students than they might realize is the inclusion of more than 200 of their peers in the second portion of the show. Brubeck will perform with the Quartet during the first half of the evening and after intermission the concert will feature members of each of Notre Dame’s choral groups as well as the University’s Symphony Orchestra.For students who find themselves less familiar with Brubeck’s work, here is a Reader’s Digest version of his early life and career. Born and bred on the West Coast, Brubeck started playing piano as a child at his classically-trained mother’s insistence, but later rebelled against the regularity of such training by engaging in a more improvisational style. As a young musician, Brubeck joined up with his long-time collaborator, alto-saxophonist Paul Desmond. Their meeting came after Brubeck spent years honing his craft and experimenting with musical conventions and time signatures, two Brubeck trademarks. “That was a conscious decision for me in the early days,” Brubeck said in an interview with Smoothjazznow.com,”…to do something that never has been done or at least change it up a little bit.”The fated Dave Brubeck Quartet was created in the mid 1950s, featuring Desmond, Brubeck, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello. While the lineup of the quartet has evolved over time, and its actual existence has ebbed and flowed, their classic format has endured. The rest, as they say, is history. The Quartet’s most famous 1959 hit, “Take Five,” off of their historic “Time Out” album, is now a standard of American jazz. Brubeck himself has won Lifetime Achievement awards from the Grammy’s and the BBC – impressive credentials for a man who was almost expelled from college for not being able to read sheet music. Then again, Brubeck is hardly a slave to convention. “Take Five” is written in 5/4 time, and the album almost went unreleased by Columbia due to its unconventionality. “First, they thought people couldn’t dance to it because of the odd time signatures,” Brubeck said in a recent interview with Allaboutjazz.com., “And it was all original compositions on an LP, which was against their rules as well. I had to argue with everybody.” Brubeck’s connection with Notre Dame extends past his inclusion of University students in tonight’s performance. Having converted to Catholicism later in life, Brubeck’s renewed interested in spirituality led to his receiving the University’s Laetare Medal in 2006. The prize, awarded to American Catholics like labor activist Dorothy Day and Sister Helen Prejean (of “Dead Man Walking” fame), further demonstrates Brubeck’s impressive talent and his appeal to students in the Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s communities. Looking to brush up on your Brubeck before or after tonight’s show? Listen to any or all of these albums for a closer look at one of the foremost jazz pianists around:u”Time Out,” the Quartet’s revolutionary recording that gave rise to the classic “Take Five.”u”The Essential Dave Brubeck,” a collection through Columbia Records summarizing his prolific career with a focus on his work in the late 1950s and early 1960s.u”Time Signatures: A Career Retrospective,” the 1992 box set that is surely a must-have for any fan of Brubeck’s brand of jazz piano. Whether you’re a jazz aficionado or just a casual listener, check out the Dave Brubeck Quartet tonight at the DPAC. An evening of classic, unconventional jazz begins at 8:30.