They say that a longtime ago in a galaxy far, far away there was once an American jazz quartet thatreleased multiple albums a year: records that sold in droves, actually makingmoney for the companies that released them. The quartet traveled around theworld performing in sold-out venues from Paducah to Tokyo. The pianist leaderof the band found himself on the cover of Time magazine, while the saxophonist had to be content with dating Audrey Hepburn.The band’s signature song became a pop hit that soon transformed itself into aubiquitous muzak-ready standard familiar to multitudes who couldn’t tell youhow to spell the word “jazz” let alone explain what it is… And then Iwoke up—was it all a dream?
Notquite, and we have the still active, soon to be 90-year-old Dave Brubeck toremind us that the original Dave Brubeck Quartet was the most popular jazzensemble of the 1950s and early ’60s. That Brubeck, for all his fame andfortune, lacks the enduring cultural cachet and critical credentials of, say,Duke Ellington or Miles Davis, is a given. There’s something too timely, toocircumscribed about the tightly controlled jazz vibe and self-consciousexperimentation of Brubeck’s music to have it remain vibrantly contemporaneous.This is cool jazz, which—unlike that of Chet Baker and Stan Getz—has notremained cool.
Andyet, as this basic Brubeck primer honoring the nonagenarian remindsus, the charms of the leader’s alternately lyrical and eccentric piano, theprecise rhythmic purr of bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello, and,above all, the gentle-toned yet incisively melodic improvisations of star saxophonistPaul Desmond (the composer of the band’s mega-hit “Take Five”) remainhard to resist. Brubeck’s music may not always reach out across the decades andshake our collars with its tactile strength, but the dustbins of bygone tastewill never be its rightful home.