On this day fifty years ago (well, it was the 13th when I wrote this), the Dave Brubeck Quartet played their last European concert. Luckily, the music made that night was recorded and pressed onto wax.
Tune: “These Foolish Things”
Recorded: 13 November, 1967 in Paris, France
- Paul Desmond- Alto Sax
- Dave Brubeck- Piano
- Eugene Wright- Bass
- Joe Morello- Drums
There’s nothing new in the way of tunes on the album. All of these tunes were staples of the Brubeck book, and in fact all of them had appeared on previous albums. Most jazz fans (and especially Brubeck/Desmond fans) know that a jazz musician can play a song seven times and it sound like a different tune each time. That is exactly the case here. Or as Mrs. Iola Brubeck says in the liner notes, “the reading of the list of tunes recorded…does not, by any means, reveal the contents of the album”.
In 1966, Brubeck gave the group notice that 1967 would be the Quartet’s last year. This added a new sense of anticipation to every performance and tour they made that year, including their European tour that fall. Spurred on by the excitement of their last European appearance, the Brubeck Quartet’s playing on this album is high quality and displays how their sound has developed over the years. There are quotes from other songs peppered throughout the album, mostly from Desmond, but also quite a few from Brubeck. They range from Bach, Bizet, and Stravinsky to Jimmy Forest. Desmond is in a rather economical mood, sticking mostly to short phrases and statements instead of long lines. By this point in the Quartet’s life, Brubeck was keeping a low profile behind Desmond’s solos, adding quiet punches here and there or laying out altogether as he does on “These Foolish Things”, letting Desmond stretch out while Wright’s bass and Morello’s brushes provide all the support he needs. There’s lots of fun and great playing on this album, which belies the more serious circumstances surrounding both the concert on the album and the album itself.
Brubeck had personal issues with the album, and at his request, Columbia/Sony has never reissued the album. Why? In Doug Ramsey’s book about Paul Desmond entitled “Take Five- The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond”, Ramsey interviewed saxophonist Herb Geller, who tells the story of Desmond’s experience in Hamburg, Germany during the 1967 European tour. On November 10th, Desmond asked Geller to take him to the Reeperbahn, a red light district of Germany complete with brothels and the works. The next day, the quartet was supposed to catch a plane for Vienna, where they were to perform. Desmond never made the flight, having had too hard a night on the town. Geller had to track him down in the Reeperbahn, finding him heavily inebriated and hanging on to the bar of a club. When Geller tried to get him to catch a plane to Vienna, Desmond refused. Eugene Wright sent someone to get him, and Desmond refused them as well. Brubeck and the guys had to play as the Dave Brubeck Trio as a result. Desmond went back to the Reeperbahn again, but this time caught the plane to Paris for the last concert the following day. There’s a good chance that it’s because of Desmond’s indiscretions, Brubeck had strong feelings about Desmond when he came back for this concert. In fact, as the liner notes mention, Desmond makes numerous veiled references to his wild time in Germany throughout the concert. The only one I recognized (as specifically pertaining to his ordeal) is “Night Train” during his solo on “These Foolish Things”, a funny way of acknowledging his late night trip to Paris. All of this probably reminded Brubeck of how Desmond left him in the lurch, causing him to not want it released anymore. As a result, the only way to own this album is by tracking down a vinyl copy.
It’s not bad, it’s not great. It’s just ok. And that’s ok. It’s pretty minimalist and clean, and to be fair, the way the art designer made the title itself art is admirable. Including the small pictures of the musicians and Paris’ most famous landmark in the letters is cute. I’d much rather have a large shot of the group in actual performance, though. Oh well.
Iola Brubeck, Dave’s wife, wrote the liner notes, and they give an interesting behind-the-scenes perspective to both the group and the performance. Mrs. Brubeck briefly touches on Desmond’s absence from Vienna, explaining that he “became ill” while in Hamburg. She also mentions that there were some college dates back in the states to play that were to be recorded. I’d love to know what those tapes sound like, if they were in fact made. I’d like to politely make a correction to her notes. Talking about “These Foolish Things”, she could only remember the Brubeck Quartet recording the tune once, on their 1953 ‘Jazz At Oberlin’ album on Fantasy. They in fact recorded the tune (officially) for their 1957 album ‘Jazz Goes To Junior College’ album for Columbia. That cut corner on the record signifies a record that was either distributed to a promoter or radio DJ. It could also mean that the record company was trying to get rid of unsold stock that was either unpopular or being discontinued, as the cut-outs meant that the record had to be sold at a severe discount. Given Brubeck’s desire to have this record not see wide circulation, the cut-out makes sense.
Released in 1968, there’s no deep groove, the vinyl is already starting to get thinner, and we’re near the end of Columbia’s 2-eye label’s run. After being a common fixture on their records throughout the 1960’s, Columbia would introduce a more boring design for the 1970’s. Normally, I stear cleer of electronically simulated stereo, but this time it’s not so bad. You get a sense of the music hall, although it sounds like Wright’s bass is trying to jump in the audience it’s so faint at times. As this was a used record, it sounds like someone played it numerous times, with Desmond’s alto suffering occasionally from the worn grooves. Other than that, though, the album sounds brand new. It plays quietly, and at times I forget I’m listening to vinyl.
I’m not sure if this is a first pressing or not, as my copy is an electrically rechanneled stereo record, and I’ve seen copies that were just in stereo. Are they the same? Do they sound different? Is there a mono copy out there? Speak up if you know!
The Place of Acquisition
eBay. It was among my first purchases on eBay and the first album I digitized. Naturally, I found a cheaper copy (in plain stereo) at my local record store after I bought this one.