This edition of ‘Desmond’s Quotes’ is special for a couple of reasons. First of all, it kicks off a new series entitled ‘Brubeck’s Notes’, which sets out to spotlight performances where Dave Brubeck weaves his own quotative magic. Second of all, this post highlights one of Brubeck’s most inspired moments ever captured on tape.
The location- Monterey Fair Grounds on the coast of Central California. The event- the first Monterey Jazz Festival, the West Coast’s answer to the successful Newport Jazz Festival. The festivities launched on 3 October, 1958, and despite a rough start, continued each year from 1958 on to the present. One of the factors contributing to the rough start of the infant festival was the constant drone of airplanes as they passed low overhead on their way to a nearby airfield. Festival creator Jimmy Lyons tried to work out an arrangement with the airfield to divert the planes during the festival’s run, but to no avail. That initial festival was interrupted numerous times as planes strafed the festival goers and performers mid-solo.
The festival pulled out all the stops for it’s inaugural festival, bringing many of the giants of jazz to its stage, including Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Gerry Mulligan, Cal Tjader, Sonny Rollins, the Modern Jazz Quartet, and the Dave Brubeck Quartet, to name a few. Dizzy Gillespie served as MC. Dave Brubeck’s quartet played two sets. The first set was during the day and featured a full orchestra playing Brubeck originals with arrangements by his brother Howard Brubeck.
The quartet then played a few tunes on their own, including tunes from their then-new album ‘Jazz Impressions of Eurasia’. Brubeck cooled things down by calling one of Desmond’s favorite ballads, ‘For All We Know’. After Brubeck’s delicate intro, the rest of the group sails in. Desmond briefly states the melody before he’s off. His lilting, breezy sax weaves lyrical lines up and down the scale as Eugene Wright’s bass and Joe Morello’s brushes provide a firm but light foundation. It’s here that Desmond manages to fit the first few bars of the Rodgers and Hart song ‘Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered’ into his solo, earning a soft “yeah” from Brubeck. Desmond continues his solo, using the melody of ‘Bewitched’ to build his improvisation. His solo becomes more impassioned before making his smooth exit and handing it to Brubeck. Brubeck maintains the reverential mood Desmond established, using full chords to make his own statement.
In the mid-1950’s, ‘For All We Know’ became a feature for Desmond, with Brubeck usually playing a half chorus before making way for Desmond to come back in and take the song out. As Brubeck nears the end of the verse, Morello sets up a figure on the cymbals, preparing for Desmond’s reentry. Instead of Desmond, Brubeck continues his swinging chordal romp into the next verse. Nearing the end of his first chorus, the drone of an airplane becomes audible, gradually growing closer until it overpowers the festival and momentarily drowns out the music. Brubeck continues with his solo as the plane courses low above the stage, and then, seconds after the rumbling plane passes over, the magic happens. Going into his second chorus, Brubeck dispenses with the chords and ever so slyly plunks out the melody to the United States Air Force Song, commonly known as ‘Off We Go Into The Wild Blue Yonder’. The audience immediately gets the reference and erupts into cheers, laughter, and applause. Even Desmond gives Dave an amused chuckle. Just as quickly as Brubeck slipped the quote in his solo, he’s back to his lush chords, building to a magnificent orchestral finish before dropping back down to hand it back to Desmond. Brubeck and Desmond had unbelievable musical prowess and quick minds, which coupled together could create unbelievable performances. Luckily, this one was taped.
Listening to the track and comparing it to the other versions of ‘For All We Know’ the Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded that same year (1958), I wonder if Brubeck, seeing that plane approaching in the distance, decided to play through it instead of having Desmond drowned out as he finished the tune? It certainly is one of Brubeck’s best encounters with that tune, another being the Brubeck Quartet’s meeting with that tune at Carnegie Hall five years later.
Desmond’s ‘Bewitched’ quote (indeed his whole solo) threatens to be overlooked and upstaged by Brubeck, which is understandable. Desmond’s solo was a study in composition, dynamics, and humor, building from his spare, floating beginning to a bluesy finish. His quote, referencing the ‘I’m wild again, beguiled again’ lyric, is open to speculation. Of course, when you think back to his face when taking in the stage in that photograph…
Here’s the performance. It’s one that is rare and rather difficult to track down. Fingers crossed that YouTube doesn’t take my upload down! Try and find Desmond’s quote, and then listen for Brubeck’s response to the airplane.
Here’s ‘Bewitched, Bothered, And Bewildered’, sung by Ella Fitzgerald.
And lastly, here’s the U.S. Air Force Song.
If you missed Desmond’s quote, it appears at the 1:57 mark.
To close out this post, here are a couple cool pictures taken by Jerry Stoll of the Brubeck group at that first Monterey Jazz Festival in October of 1958.