Sunday, December 5, 2010

Review of The Dave Brubeck Quartet “Concert at the Tarrytown Music Hall, Tarrytown, NY December 3, 2010

The concert at the venerable old Music Hall in Tarrytown, New York was part of what was supposed to be a birthday celebration tour for the octogenarian Dave Brubeck, who is turning ninety on Monday December 6, 2010.  The Tarrytown Music Hall was a particularly appropriate place to see the veteran master as he approached this landmark year, its opening (1885) predates even Mr. Brubeck's birth (1920) by thirty-five years. With its historic Victorian/Art Deco presence being carefully maintained by the community, some generous benefactors, the rejuventive Jazz Forum Arts Series, the New York State Council for the Arts and bevy of volunteers, the 885 seat Music Hall is a jewel that can be especially appreciated when it hosts artists the stature of Dave Brubeck. Originally scheduled for October, Brubeck underwent a pacemaker operation and had to postpone the show.  With true grit, the grizzled showman, after a short recovery period that would be the envy of people half his age, was back to performing. He did a recent stint at the Blue Note, where the respected NY Times Critic Nate Chinen caught his act the previous Friday
(here is a link to his article  and talked of Brubeck being more economical saying “he had softened his pianism, replacing the old hammer-and-anvil attack with something almost airy…”.

On this evening, I found Mr. Brubeck’s playing to be deliberate and joyful. He has certainly tempered his percussive side, perhaps as a means to sustain energy, but to no less effect. He lifted his hands high above the keyboard at times, evoking anticipation of his next choice of note or phrase, almost giving himself pause to reflect on the possibilities.  During several passages his playing was elegant and fluid, but his role has shifted from centerpiece soloist to orchestrator and consummate accompanist. He was accompanied by his polished rhythm section of  Michael Moore on bass and Randy Jones on drums. Along with the mellifluous saxophonist Bobby Militello, the trio did most of the heavy lifting during the concert. Mr. Brubeck was helped on stage to tumultuous applause from the adoring audience. The audience was amazingly diverse with many younger patrons accompanying their parents or friends for this once in a lifetime event.

The quartet went through a mostly familiar repertoire including a medley of Duke Ellington’s  “Duke’s Place” and  "Take the A Train” which featured some sensitive bowing by Mr. Moore, the obligatory “Take Five”, with Mr. Jones taking an extended drum solo, ala Joe Morello, as Mr. Brubeck stood at his piano watching, “Forty Pieces” and a beautifully sensitive “Elegy” where Mr. Brubeck showed he hasn’t lost his sense of lyricism. He did his own take on the 1924 theme song from Fred Waring and The Pennsylvanians, a tune called “Sleep” where Militello played a gorgeous flute solo that was pristine in its clarity. Mr. Brubeck was at his most elegant on his Gregorian Chant inspired variation on "Pange Lingua".
The highlight of the evening  was when the audience started to spontaneously erupt into "Happy Birthday" a cappella to the surprised Mr. Brubeck, who was prodded into playing it along with his band mates ( a first he said) as the audience stood singing. Later in the evening, he was presented with an official birthday cake from Jazz Forum Arts. He playfully got some icing on his new suit, a suit he joked was new twenty years ago. 
It was an evening to remember for both Mr. Brubeck and his grateful audience. Based on his vitality at the keyboard, we will have him around to ply his magic for many years to come.

For those who want a good overview of Mr. Brubeck's career check out Clint Eastwood's "In Your Own Sweet Way" to be featured this Monday night December 6, 2010 on the Turner Classic television station at 8 PM. 

Here is a clip from Dave's classic quartet from 1966 on Duke's "Take the A Train" 


  1. Wow, 90 years young and still playing. This just shows you the power of a good musical diet for a long life.

  2. Dave sounded rather shaky on his Ellington Newport program from 2009, but maybe that was his first time with that program. I suspect his present quartet has been with him longer than the one with Desmond. Fascinating how he went from a polymath small-group drummer (Morello) to a couple of big band power plants (first, Butch Miles, from Basie; then Randy Jones, from Maynard). Oscar used to complain about following Dave into a club because the piano would be broken to smithereens. Small wonder with drummers like those.

  3. About a year ago, Dave in a Down Beat cover story, characterized himself as "the last cowboy." I'm still awaiting a sequel from him to Rollins' "Way Out West."