We lost one of the legends this week. That word, "legend," gets tossed around a lot nowadays, but in the case of Dave Brubeck, it is not only appropriate, it may be an understatement. Dave was the first jazz artist featured on the cover of Time magazine and for a period of time, he represented the world of jazz to the general public. He fought against discrimination and helped promote African American artists. He was a goodwill ambassador to the world and performed for millions around the planet. He enlightened and entertained for decades and will live on alongside the greats in music history.
But all of this, while important, is not the signature accomplishment of Dave Brubeck's life. He was a good man. Good in every way. A wonderful husband and loving father. A caring would and a man of devout faith. He possessed a genuine quality that shown through to everyone who ever met him. I consider myself on of the fortunate ones because I had the pleasure of crossing paths with Dave on a very special night in Manhattan in 1993.
I was a fan and had always hoped to see Dave Brubeck play, but the vast majority of his modern performance time was at large outdoor festivals. Grand in scale, not optimal for the intimacy of jazz. Dave had been quite ill during the previous year and had a renewed interest in performance in smaller venues. In the fall of 1993, I read that Dave would be making his first club appearance in decades at the Blue Note in New York. I simply could not pass up this opportunity, so i drove to Washington, then took the train to NYC and spent the day at Radio City Music Hall and then went to Rockefeller center's NBC studios to see the 17th episode of Late Night with Conan O'Brien being recorded.
That night I spent two sets, almost 3 hours total, sitting 2 feet away from Dave as he played with his Quartet. He played a piano with such power and force that they had to have a professional piano tuner come in and retune the piano between sets. After his first set, I went upstairs to see if I might get a minute with him and he was the most gracious man, spending about a half hour with me talking about jazz, his career and his performance. I've been fortunate to meet a number of great performers over the years who have been wonderful, but I must say Dave was one of the nicest, most genuine people I've ever had the pleasure to meet.
After spending hours at the club, I had to leave when they closed at 2am and, since I didn't have enough money left for a hotel room, I stayed up all night in the city - an experience in itself - ending up at Penn Station for a 6am train back to DC and then a 4 hour car trip home. Insane but one of the single most amazing days of my life.
Thank you Dave and Godspeed!