To start off this journey as College Jazz Collector, I figured I should start off with this Brubeck album, for a few reasons. First (and most importantly), it’s the Dave Brubeck Quartet; I almost HAD to. Secondly, this is probably my all-time favorite jazz album. And thirdly, this album was recorded exactly 60 years ago in 1957, which is a neat coincidence.
The Cover Art
College Jazz Collector Rating: Kitschy
The liner notes describe how Brubeck wanted to use a picture of both the band and his children with Disneyland as a backdrop for the album’s cover, but due to legal issues (even in 1957. Who knew?) had to abort the idea. Instead, we get treated to a portrait of Dave Brubeck sans glasses and squinting into the sun. Coupled with the fanciful doodles of Disney characters dancing around him, the cover art gives the impression that this album is more on the whimsical and playful side and less on the serious and adult side. In fact, this album is equal parts playful and serious.
Solid liner notes by producer George Avakian, with the added bonus of a vintage ad for a Columbia stereo. I wonder how much ‘affordable’ was in 1957, and how much one would cost now?
Classic Columbia 6-eye labels, deep groove record in glorious monaural (mono) sound. 1957 was the year many record companies began flirting with stereo sound. Surprisingly, given Columbia’s clout and cutting edge technology back then, they were relatively late to the stereo party, releasing their first stereo albums in 1958. The matrix numbers are 2D on side 1 & 2C on side 2, which, according to the vinyl gods i.e. LondonJazzCollector, means that this album was sourced from a 2nd master tape was cut relatively early. The vinyl has few hair-line scratches, but looks a strong Very Good Plus (VG+), which is record-buying jargon for a record that isn’t perfect but looks still pretty good.
Personnel: Dave Brubeck- Piano / Paul Desmond- Alto Saxophone / Norman Bates- Bass / Joe Morello- Drums
The quartet during the 'Disney' recording session
Recorded: June 29-30 & August 29, 1957
As I said, this is probably my favorite jazz album, certainly my favorite Dave Brubeck Quartet album. To many Brubeck fans and jazz fans as a whole, THE Brubeck album to own is his massively popular 1959 album ‘Time Out’. To them, I say “sure”. In my opinion, the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s quality of studio albums slowly declined after 1958, and then rapidly after 1960. Paul Desmond’s solos got shorter and less-inspired as Brubeck’s solos lengthened and seemed to grow more tired. Desmond made the observation in 1963 that “[y]ou can tell which one is me because when I’m not playing, which is surprisingly often, I’m leaning against the piano”.
On this album, Desmond was still playing lots of inspired sax and Brubeck was there to match him move for move. One of the things I love about the Brubeck/Desmond partnership was their penchant for using devices found in classical music such as the fugue and counterpoint and grafting it into the jazz idiom in a swinging and humorous way. This is clearly evident in this album, particularly on ‘Give A Little Whistle’. This track finds Desmond turning out inspired chorus after inspired chorus, sprinkling his solo with humorous octave leaps that sound like he’s playing a duet with himself. Brubeck’s ensuing solo is uncharacteristically economical, with sparse single lines building up to an exciting climax. He then cools things down in preparation for Desmond’s reentry. The two musicians proceed to improvise some of the tastiest counterpoint this side of Bach. The counterpoint gives way to a bout of trading four-bar choruses between Desmond and drummer Joe Morello. All in all a tasty performance. It’s really amazing how the group is able to make these Disney songs work as jazz vehicles, and in fact it was Brubeck who introduced ‘Someday My Prince Will Come’ into the jazz world, and after the endorsements of Miles Davis and Bill Evans in the form of their own cover versions, the song became a jazz standard.
A quick word about the sound quality. I bought this record for $4.00 at the local record store, so I had a feeling it wouldn’t sound brand new. I was not disappointed. The record sounds like its grooves are worn, which, considering it’s 60 years old, isn’t too crazy. Apparently it was someone else’s favorite album, too. Oh well. That’s the price we pay for collecting vintage vinyl. Pre-owned, pre-loved equals worn records. It’s a good thing I have the CD version (that I bought, oddly enough, in the summer of 2007, which woulda been the album’s 50th birthday), as well as the iTunes version, complete with bonus tracks. Yeah, this is my favorite jazz album. Enjoy the crackly track of ‘Give A Little Whistle’!
The Place of Acquisition
Vertical House Records, the local record store here in Huntsville, Alabama. I’ve been regular denizen of this store for about a year now, and I’m still surprised at how much great stuff finds its way into the bins and shelves. Who knew northern Alabama could be a fertile environment for jazz? Support your local record stores, folks. It’s not just a business, it’s a culture.