Goodbye Dave Brubeck

Today Dave Brubeck passed away, unquestionably one of my favorite jazz musicians and a legend in his field.  I had the privilege of seeing him perform live twice. Once in September 2007 at the Rio Theatre in Santa Cruz and again in October of 2008 at the San Francisco Symphony Hall. He was an old man, hunched over at each of those shows as he walked to the stage. But when he sat down at the piano and his quartet came alive something sublime happened and his unique, his distinct and his timeless sound filled the halls with music lodged deep in to the American musical lexicon. At the shows he told stories of the other times he’d performed in the cities. At the San Francisco show, he waxed on for a while about performing in the Fillmore and the Tenderloin in the 60s.

My words would never be able to do justice to his career, his work, or his legacy: at those two events, I was lucky enough to capture a few memories of the shows which I’d like to share with you today.

Images from Dave Brubeck Live at the Rio Theatre, September 2007

Videos from Dave Brubeck Live at the San Francisco Symphony Hall, October 2008

Goodbye Dave, your talent will be missed but your music will live on.

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Track of the Week: Salt Peanuts by Dizzy Gillespie

As the year winds down, a little Salt Peanuts by Dizzy Gillespie is in order. The recording I have is by “The Quinent”, the collection of Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, Charles Mingus, and Max Roach performing Live at Massy Hall in Toronto. The reason I’d picked this recording up in the first place was Mingus’ involvement in the performance (my obsession for Mingus’ recordings continues).

Salt Peanuts is a bit unusual in that it features Gillespie vocalizing the phrase “salt peanuts” multiple times while taking breaks from his racing trumpeting. It’s a solid bop sound, with a pretty standard bop structure. Given the luminarys that are on the recording, the song is without a doubt Gillespie’s. The crowd cheers any time he takes a break from his horn, which takes center stage. Roach holds the song together on the drums and makes Powell’s solid piano solo come alive by rimming on his snares. What I love the most of live jazz recordings is how the musicians (for lack of a better word) cheer each other on during solos. Anybody who has been to a live jazz show knows how when somebody is jamming, everybody else drops their head and cat calls in approval. This recording of Salt Peanuts captures that quite well during a few of the solos.

Recently, I shared the album with @emalasky at the office a few months ago and he repeated the phrase “salt peanuts” a few times to me afterwards (to me, a strange affirmation of how catchy the odd phrase still is). I also heard it at Shady Lady in Sacramento last weekend. It’s a bit anachronistic given that Shady Lady is suppose to be a speak easy, I’ll take it any time I hear some Gillespie at a bar.

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Track of the Week: Ysabel’s Table Dance by Charlie Mingus

Mingus, without a doubt, is my favorite bebop/post-bop musician. His music often has a brooding sound but this week’s pick of Ysabel’s Table Dance from Tijuana Moods is a departure from what I’d consider typical Mingus. I didn’t find this album until I had Mingus Big Band play at Yoshi’s in SF about two years ago.  It’s one of his lesser known recordings.

The story goes that Mingus was inspired by a trip to Tijuana after a break up. The cover reads on the 1962 release reads “The album Charlie Mingus feels is his best work, in which he and his men re-create an exciting stay in Mexico’s wild and controversial border town.” The album as a whole probably comes in behind Mingus Mingus Mingus for me, but outside the tapestry of Ysabel’s Table Dance is a great bebop album.

It opens with high tempo castanets, then adds a layer of Mingus’ bass, then drum sticks, then a layer of vocals and piano, at which point the sound scape is set for the song.  The track clocks in at 10+ minutes and it’s not until the 4 minute mark that you remember that this is not an action song written for some Brad Pitt movie but rather a bebop track from ’62. The whole thing, through and through is manic. Saxes show up, tear through a few bars of chaos then are fought back with a trumpet as the cadence gets faster and slower and at some point you’re just lost to what you’re hearing. It’s not until the last minute or so that you see how it all comes together, and then the moment you’ve understood the song ends. It’s a fantastic track, and one of my all time favorite Mingus recordings.

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Mingus Big Band at Yoshi’s SF

I had the chance to see the Mingus Big Band, a 14-piece ensemble, play at Yoshi’s in SF Tuesday night. The show was incredible. It was my first time at the new Yoshi’s and it’s quite a bit swankier than the location in Oakland. We had a drink at the bar beforehand waiting for the doors to open to the 10pm show and the entire dining area is, well, swanky.

Hands down, Mingus is my favorite jazz musician. Crazy insane or just insane crazy, his music gets me like no other jazz style musician can. I missed the names of the first few songs, but the second half of the
set was Baby Take a Chance on Me, Ysabel’s Table Dance (which had an
incredible cadenza in the middle by the pianist), Pinkie (from Epithet,
although I couldn’t find that track on the set list from Epithet), and
finished up with Song with Orange.

I was quite impressed with all the songs they attempted. On one of the songs they performed they pulled the music out and told the audience this is the first time they’re trying to play it. Then the band leader turned around and talked off mic to the band for five minutes about the song. He turned around, sat down, counted off and they pretty much sight read the whole piece. Phenomenal. Coincidently the 22nd was Mingus’ birthday, which made the evening that much more special.

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