From its beginning in 1951, the Dave Brubeck Quartet had a seemingly constant stream of new drummers and bassists join the group until settling down in 1958. When the group first began making records in ’51 for Fantasy, the quartet consisted of Herb Barman on drums and Fred Dutton doubling on bassoon and bass. Dutton was soon replaced that year by Wyatt “Bull” Ruther, who played bass only. Both appeared on records made that year. Ruther and Barman exemplified the kind of rhythm section Paul Desmond favored, one that provided a musical foundation for him and Brubeck to solo over. Live tapes from 1951 and 1952 display the swinging contributions Ruther and Barman made to the group. It was this formation of the Quartet that ventured East to the famous Birdland in New York.
In late 1952, Herb Barman was replaced with Lloyd Davis, and in December, Wyatt Ruther left to join Erroll Garner, and Ron Crotty (the bassist in Brubeck’s trio) stepped in. This version of the Quartet stayed together for nearly a year, recording the landmark album, Jazz At Oberlin in March of 1953. In December of that year, Davis tired of the travel, and was replaced by Joe Dodge, an old friend of Desmond’s. The album Jazz At College of The Pacific, and its companion album Jazz At College of The Pacific Volume II from the same performance, is Dodge’s first album with the Brubeck Quartet. Early 1954 found Bob Bates as the quartet’s new bassist, replacing Crotty who was sick. This quartet went on to catapult the Dave Brubeck Quartet into the national spotlight, landing Brubeck on the cover of Time Magazine in late 1954 and moving the group from Fantasy to the Columbia label. Noteworthy albums this particular version of the Quartet produced includes Jazz Goes To College, Jazz: Red Hot And Cool, and Brubeck Time. Bob’s brother Norman Bates took over the bassist chair in 1956, and later that year Joe Dodge would leave the group. Desmond suggested Joe Morello as a replacement, a suggestion he later regretted. With Morello in the group, the sound of the Quartet changed. In late 1957, Bates opted out of the group, and Eugene Wright joined the group at the start of 1958 as the Quartet embarked on tours of Europe and the Middle East for the American government. Wright briefly left the group in the summer of ’58, and Joe Benjamin stepped in on bass for two albums recorded that year, Newport ’58 and Jazz Impressions of Eurasia. Wright was back for the remainder of 1958, as was Morello, and this manifestation of the Dave Brubeck Quartet stayed together for nearly ten years, becoming known as the ‘Classic Quartet’. The Quartet remained extremely active in their traveling, and recorded prolifically throughout the 1960’s, right up to and including their last performance in December of 1967. Looking back on the many different reincarnations of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, it’s interesting to see how the sound of the quartet changed as different sidemen joined and left. But, let’s save that for another post.