Brubeck Bros. Quartet: a Tribute to Dad at the Hamilton

When you see that the Brubeck Brothers Quartet is playing as a big part of the Jazz at the Hamilton Live series as the D.C. Jazz Festival nears its end Friday night, you don’t necessarily think of Dan Brubeck on drums, or Chris Brubeck on bass and trombone, or their compatriots Mike DeMicco on guitar and Chuck Lamb on piano.

You think about what they’re doing which is a concert called “A Tribute to Dave Brubeck,” and you think about that guy who isn’t there but surely is. That would be Chris and Dan’s father and dad, mentor and influence, Dave Brubeck, the jazz composer and player and one of the most original American musicians and jazz players ever in a field stuffed to full glory with originals.

“It’s about my dad, sure. It’s a tribute, sure, but it’s about all of us—our memories, the influence and the love, so yeah, there’s a lot going on,” said Chris Brubeck, something of an iconoclast and multitasker and multi-talented guy who can seamlessly float in and out of rock and roll, pop, jazz, and classical music in his composing and playing, and talking. He is also the man behind and in front of the group, Triple Play, which delves into rock and blues and some straight ahead jazz, as jazz people would have it.

In “Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play Live at Arthur Zankel Music Center with Joel Brown and Peter Madcat Ruth,” a concert album recorded in 2011, you can hear the son’s eclectic tastes and his roaring, soaring trombone on such songs as “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” a bluesy ripper by Hambone Willie Newburn or Chris’s “Mighty Mrs. Hippy” and Fat’s Waller’s “Black and Blue.” Wonders of wonders, though, you can hear dad, Dave Brubeck, making a guest appearance on “St. Louis Blues” and his trademark Paul Desmond number “Take Five,” so that you get a sense of father and son merging, not for the first time, but for the last time. It’s the last known recorded performance by Dave Brubeck, coincidentally.

Coincidentally, it’s also Father’s Day two days after the concert at the Hamilton. Brubeck senior was a lifetime achievement honoree at the D.C. Jazz Festival.

“You know almost all of us, all the sons, are or were in the business at one time or another, and we played with him many times over the years,” Chris Brubeck said. “We, and I know I did, learned a lot from him, and one of the things was to respect, enjoy and play all kinds of music.”

That’s very evident if you check out YouTube and find a kind of shared talk between Chris and his father on the occasion of collaborating on writing a symphonic composition on a PBS documentary on the great American photographer Ansel Adams. “Yeah, that’s something, isn’t, it?” Chris said. “I saw a lot of similarities between dad and Adams. They were American types, they grew up in somewhat the same kind of area, big mountains, big stretches of land. Dad was taking classical musical lessons when grandpa decided to be a rancher. So, dad instead was something of a cowboy, but he played on weekends in a band.”

This is not the place to go into a biography of the grand master that Dave Brubeck was. This is about a family, two families, the kind of life lived by Brubeck, which was not a life you could call typically a jazz life. The jazz legends lived large and lived dramatically— Bird, the Duke, Ella, Billie, Miles, Dizzy, Bud Powell and so on, lives lived on the edges of disaster. That wasn’t Brubeck. As much as he traveled and played, he was always a phone call, a thought, a voice or a possible distance away from his source and reason.

“There’s sometimes this idea that dad wasn’t, I don’t know, really jazz enough, that he was too intellectual or something which isn’t true at all,” Brubeck said. “He was a giant, but he lived his own life. He revered all these men and women—witness ‘The Duke,’ which he wrote and he loved playing with people. He was a collaborationist. He felt that classical music and jazz were all part of the same stream, that you could find things in both that led you to the other. I think I got that from him.”

The young Brubeck lived a bit of the rock-and-roll life in California. Chris had his own group(s). That’s still there, but he played and travelled with his father.

“It’s still hard to believe he’s not here,” he said. “I mean, it just happened last December. I was traveling. We didn’t know that he was in trouble. I heard about it, while I was away. Everybody, all of miss him not being here.”

Fathers and sons on a Friday night in Washington, jazz all around. For sure, you can hear it—that familiar lead in to “Take Five,” like musical hipsters sauntering down the streets. That’s when you will expect to see him and know that he’ll be there anyway. Old music legends may die, but their music never fades away—especially, when you have his two boys giving and playing a tribute to the old man.


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