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Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Brubeck Time - Dave Brubeck


Stompin' For Mili

Brubeck Time
High Fidelity Studio Recordings by The Dave Brubeck Quartet
Painting: Boris Artzybasheff
Photographs: Sue Greenburg
Columbia Records CL 622

From the back cover: Dear George (George Avakian - Columbia Records): 

I've just listened to the acetate of the new "Time" LP and I'll have to admit that you were right. When you told me to line up material for a studio session in New York this summer, I talked it over with Paul, Joe and Rob. We were all somewhat reluctant to do a formal studio session. Of course, we had heard of the wonderful acoustical properties of Columbia's 30th Street studio, but no matter how great it might be acoustically, it was still a studio. We all felt that our group performs better before a live audience.

As you well known, the musical quality of our recordings has concerned me much more than their technical quality. The technical headaches I have always left to you, George (and I know you've had'em), and I realized it was "hi-time" for a really "hi-fi" record from us, but musically our group seems to depend upon audience response for its inspiration.

You will recall it turned out that we not only had the inspiration of the true sound of one of the greatest recording studios in the world – but the simulation of a surprise audience – a very select few, as a matter of fact. As I listened to the album I felt somehow that all the personalities involved had contributed to the story behind the music of this LP.

I was pretty skeptical when I walked into that enormous room the first afternoon, so it was a real surprise to me the most of the tunes we recorded during the studio session were good on the first take. I guess I had pictured the engineers to be cold-hearted ogres with ear phone instead of a friendly efficient crew throughly enjoying their work and ours. Your Armenian face nodding behind the glass was a reassuring link between us and the men who operated the maze of technical equipment. If memory serves me right, "Brother Can You Spare A Dime," and "A Fine Romance," "Why Do I Love You," "Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now" and "Pennies From Heaven" were all first takes. Studio or no, I"ll have to admit things went well that first afternoon. But what a difference a day makes! Remember we decided to record a couple of originals that could also be used as the sound track for the Mili film? Something happened to us all. The relaxed atmosphere that had prevailed in the pervious session vanished into the acoustical boards.

Just think who was there that day. You; your brother Al, originator of the film project; Gjon Mili, probably the world's most famous photographer; Time magazine even sent a reporter to cover the session. The pressure was on, boy! The red studio light was the sign of blood – ours if we didn't produce! We have seen Mili's classic "Jamin' The Blues" and knew we must measure up to high standards.

I don't know whether Al ever explained to you the spot we were in that day. You know he wasn't the first one to approach Mili with the idea of putting the Quartet on film. Jackie Judge, a school-mate of mine, now editor of Modern Photography Magazine, had tried to persuade Gjon to consider us for a film project and he had turned thumbs down. She played some of our earlier records for him and he seemed completely unimpressed. The whole idea was dismissed with "It's not jazz."

When Al phoned Mili with the same idea last fall, he was completely unaware of Jackie's unsuccessful attempt and Mili was still doubtful, but nevertheless accepted Al's suggestion that he hear us at Basin Street.

The next part of the story I think you know. Gjon Mili sat stone-faced through one set at Basin Street. He was apparently unmoved. Then, suddenly he announced, "This may not be jazz, but it certainly is music. Yes, I'll do it."

As you might imagine we felt we were on pretty shaky ground when we started to make masters for the track. and undoubtedly our playing reflected the shakiness. Mili was present to study our movements to plan the actual shooting of the movie. You'll remember his impatience with our nervousness and after the first take he declaimed in clear, firm tones, "My first impression was right. You're no good."

At this point my blood began to boil. Once again I resented all studios and all people who thought jazz "is like a faucet, it goes off and on." Mili had heard us in fairly top form at Basin Street with a good live audience. Naturally, he wanted that for the sound track, but how were we to deliver under these circumstances?

We jumped in, and when I hear "Stompin' For Mili" (by the way, your title is appropriate) it is evident to me that this is musical expression of rage and frustration. The first quote I played in my solo "Thank You For A Lovely Evening," pointed at Gjon.

In spite of my feeling we were still after a good take and I remember Al had directed me to play some of this take with one hand to add visual interest fo the film. You can hear this section in the first 20 bars of my first chorus. Mili and Al wanted a reason for the camera to switch from instrument to instrument at particular points in the film, so after my last chorus, there is one chorus devoted to an exchange of patterns between Joe and me; and in the following chorus the whole group exchanged patterns. This leads into two choruses of improvised counterpoint. We ended with the feeling that we had redeemed ourselves. I can still see Mili jumping from his chair exclaiming "You're hot! By God you're hot! Don't stop now!" This was when Time Magazine got one of the choicest spontaneous quotes of the year.

As I look back on it now, I wonder how much of this was a natural clash of temperaments, and how much was masterminded by foxy Gjon. After all, he got what he wanted when he wanted it. He got us to that fine edge, but he also restored our confidence in ourselves.

Anyway, were were all friends again, and amenable to  your suggestions that we next play a minor blues in a quiet vein to counterbalance the raucous "Stompin' For Mili."

"I would like," said Gjon, closing his eyes and raising hand expressively, "I would like to see Audrey Hepburn come walking through the woods – "

"Gee," said Paul wistfully, "So would I."

"One," I said noticing the glazed expression about Paul's eyes, "two, three, four."

And we played it. Hence, the title. It's significance, I trust will not be lost to the male population.

The last time I was talking to Pete Rugolo he mentioned that he would like to hear more of the arranged counterpoint we used to play. So when we decided to record in a formal session, I wrote arrangements for the first and last choruses of most of the tune but we retained the privilege of playing our own little games of improvising counterpoint before going into the written chorus. Many people have enjoyed the informality and the live performances of the Jazz Goes To College and Storyville LPs, but many have suggested that we also play some of the arrangements which were more or less characteristic of my earlier trio and quartet.

So, in writing the cover notes, George, you can say that the canon with the alto stating the theme and the bass and piano handling the successive entrances. This is one of my favorites. We tried to capture the strange mixture of pathos and courage which prevailed during the early thirties, I don't know whether you can remember bread lines and selling apples on the street – but that's the feeling we tried to get on this tune. The meaning of the original lyrics is an important part of what we play. Do you know how they go? They're somewhat comical viewed from this day and age, but there's something very touching about them, too.

The arrangement on "A Fine Romance" begins with the piano stating the first theme in the first 8 bars, then piano and bass skip to the bridge leaving the alto sax to play the second 8-bar section. Paul then plays the bridge, while Bob and I repeat the theme of the first 8-bars. In other words, the superimposing of theme on theme – a row, row, row, your boat" type construction.

In "Keepin' Out Of Mischief Now," we tried to retain the true flavor of the original Fats Waller composition. Most of the newer schools of jazz have forgotten the wonderful old Waller tunes.

"Jeepers Creepers," on the other hand, is played by many jazz groups. It's a natural. But the first time I ever heard it played as a jazz tune was in '49 when Dick Collins, now jazz trumpet with Woody Herman, wrote an arrangement for himself, Paul, and the trio I had then. We've kept it in the book ever since. When you credit Dick for the arrangement you had better add that is has changed markedly through the years, and he is not responsible for the hokey ending. We just tagged that on for laughs.

Except for a series of modulation, we stuck very close to the original melody of "Why Do I Love You." There's no arrangement on "Pennies From Heaven." It's one-shot version of an old standard thrown in for good measure and it happened to turn out well. It has an occasional polytonal sound which I like, and very tasteful fills from Joe. To me, Joe and Bob get a very light swinging sound, an ideal background to work with.

All in all, I think it's a good album, George. Paul was great on "Audrey" and I think there are some exciting moments in all the tunes. The main criterion is not our individual efforts so much as how we perform as a group – the over-all feeling and form which sometimes takes shape. I think we got by in this set, so you can consider this an official okay to wrap it up, George.

By the way, I think the Artzybasheff cover from Time Magazine is a good idea.

My regards to the New York gang. – Sincerely, Dave (Dave Brubeck)

Jeepers Creepers
Pennies From Heaven
Why Do I Love You
Stompin' For Mili
Keepin' Out O Mischief Now
A Fine Romance
Brother, Can You Spare A Dime

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