This week’s Monterey Jazz Festival will be remarkable for any number of reasons but one in particular leaps immediately to mind.
The 2013 festival is the first since the death of Dave Brubeck, the legendary jazz pianist-composer who midwifed the event’s birth nearly 60 years ago. The festival will mark Brubeck’s passing Friday night with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra performs a specially commissioned tribute.
I had the opportunity to see Brubeck perform several times, both in Monterey and on his frequent visits to Stockton, where he attended then-College of the Pacific in the late 1930s and early ‘40s, met his wife Iola and began performing live. University of the Pacific is now home to the Brubeck Institute, whose resident student ensemble performs at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in the Night Club. The festival lineup also includes a Brubeck panel discussion at 2 p.m. Saturday in Dizzy’s Den and a performance by the Brubeck Brothers Quartet at 10:30 p.m. Saturday.
I had the opportunity to interview Brubeck three times between 2000 and 2004 and will post these archival items this week in the run up to Monterey. The first interview is a lengthy, retrospective piece on Brubeck’s formative years. Here is the second installment.
Brubeck’s family – parent Pete and Bessie and his older brothers Howard and Henry – moved from Concord to Ione in 1933.
His reaction, Brubeck recalled, ''was probably typical of what any 12-year-old goes through. You lose your friends that you've gotten to know.''
The Brubecks were, however, hardly a typical family. Howard ''Pete'' Brubeck was of German descent, perhaps with a strain of Modoc Indian as well. He was a man of the outdoors, a rancher and cattle buyer who regularly won top prizes in steer- and calf-roping at the Salinas Rodeo. Pete Brubeck wanted his sons to become cowboys, too.
He moved his family to Ione so he could take a job managing the 45,000-acre Rancho Arroyo Seco. It was a sprawling piece of California real estate measuring 25 miles across in some places. Pete Brubeck found plenty of work for his sons on the cattle ranch. In the Brubeck archives is a photo of Dave Brubeck at 16, sitting tall in the saddle and beaming at the camera.
Rancho Arroyo Seco was ''much more isolated (than Concord),'' Brubeck said. ''A very different world. But I did enjoy the cattle ranch, the completely different life.''
It was a life filled with labor. In "It's About Time: the Dave Brubeck Story," biographer Fred M. Hall writes about Brubeck spending entire summers on horseback, and milking cows morning and night. He carried water uphill to the house from the well in the meadow below.
The physicality of ranch life paid off during his music career. In the early days, Brubeck noted, touring meant packing the band into one car and hitting the road.
''I was physically tough and I could take driving across the country without stopping,'' Brubeck said. ''That helped me get through all that, definitely.''
Then, as it had in Ione, music animated Brubeck's life.
Elizabeth Ivey Brubeck had wanted to become a concert pianist, going so far as to study in England with Tobbias Matthay during the early years of her marriage. Her father owned a Concord livery stable and she met Pete Brubeck when he came to town selling horses.
In Concord, Bessie had ready access to San Francisco culture, and she often took the ferry to the city. She pursued a college degree, studying part-time at UC Berkeley, San Jose State and the University of Idaho. There were as many as five pianos in the Brubeck home. Everyone except Pete played.
The move to Ione cut Bessie off from the art and culture she craved, so she made her own. She taught piano as she had in Concord, opening a studio in the home the Brubeck’s rented.
''My father was a great influence on me and so was my mother,'' Brubeck said. ''They were opposites. So I had two strong personalities pulling in opposite directions.''
None of their children, he added, ever understood what Pete and Bessie saw in each other.
''We never figured it out,'' Brubeck said with a laugh. ''My brothers, who were all well-educated people, and I never figured out.''
By the mid-1930s, his parents' divergent interests were reflected in Brubeck's own. Brubeck had been given four Holstein cows by his father to prepare him for his ranching future. At the same time, he was performing in family recitals and listening to swing music on the radio.
Brubeck bought his first record – Fats Waller's ''There's Honey on the Moon Tonight'' backed with ''Let's Be Fair and Square in Love'' – with money earned from his ranch labor.
His first trips to Stockton also reflected that dichotomy.
''I used to come down from Ione to study cello with Mrs. Brown, the wife of a very good teacher, Horace Brown, who taught at the Conservatory,'' Brubeck said. ''And my dad used to take me to a cattle ranch out beyond Hammer Lane.''
The Stockton of that era, Brubeck said, barely extended north of Harding Way.
''There were a lot of onion fields around the Conservatory and down Pacific Avenue. It hadn't been filled in with houses and, across the Valley, it was quite open. Toward Hammer Lane, that would all be farms.''
When Brubeck enrolled at College of the Pacific, it was expected and something of a compromise. It was expected because his brother, Henry, had studied there. (He later played with Gil Evans and became superintendent of music in Santa Barbara's public school system.) Howard Brubeck worked as a composer and educator and retired as dean of humanities of Palomar College.
Studying at Pacific also meant Brubeck could continue the musical education his mother so prized while preparing for the ranch life his father envisioned. Ironically, it was ranch life that led to Brubeck's first paying gigs.
John Ostabah, a Lodi resident who collected the laundry at Rancho Arroyo Seco, heard the 14-year-old Brubeck play and asked if he wanted to join his band.
Brubeck agreed and, although he couldn't read music, the raw-boned teenager soon was sitting in with the professionals. An early favorite was an open-air venue along the Mokelumne River in Clements.
''Right where the Clements grocery store used to be 60 years ago, you turned left instead of going up into the foothills,'' Brubeck said. ''You drove to the river and there was an outdoor dance hall there. I remember bare light bulbs strung up above the old wooden dance floor and it was all warped.''
Brubeck played with Ostabah's group in Jackson and Angels Camp. As a senior at Ione High School, he played with Bill Amick's band in Sutter Creek and Placerville.
Brubeck pursued more paying gigs after enrolling at COP. Legend has it he filled his nights playing Conservatory-forbidden jazz in Stockton clubs.
''That's the whole truth,'' Brubeck said. ''I worked in nightclubs downtown and dance halls. The most wonderful place was across the railroad tracks from the old downtown station called Cool Corner.
''That was a place most of the students wouldn't go or the faculty. So I never worried about (being found out.)''
The legend, he added, overlooks one thing. There were people in the Conservatory – faculty and students alike – who also listened to, and played, jazz.
J. Russell Bodley, a conservatory professor, ''liked jazz,'' Brubeck said. ''He knew what I was doing and so did Dr. Brown. Then there's the legend that 'Tuxedo Junction' was written by a Pacific student and there was a family of boys – I can't think of their names – but they all had perfect pitch and they all played jazz.
''And my brother, when he went to Pacific, played with Gil Evans and how do you figure him coming out of Stockton? He became one of the greatest arrangers in the world.
''So our class was full of guys who played in jazz bands. You just didn't play jazz at the Conservatory.''
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