This year's Kennedy Center Honors Gala and Dave Brubeck's birthday both fall on the same day: Dec. 6. Born 89 years ago in California, Brubeck enlisted to serve in Patton's Army in Europe in WWII. After the war, he studied on the GI Bill with the expatriate French composer Darius Milhaud.
Brubeck accompanied Jimmy Lyons to a meeting to persuade the municipal government of Monterey to permit a jazz festival. It's thought that Brubeck's playing for the council did the trick; the Monterey Jazz Festival is now in its 52nd year. He's also a stalwart at the Newport Festival. Onstage on this installment of JazzSet from Newport 55, impresario George Wein jokes with Brubeck, "How many times have you played here? Forty?"
In the late 1950s, promoting America by sharing its culture, the U.S. State Department sent jazz musicians around the world. The Dave Brubeck Quartet toured Eastern Europe and Asia, from Poland to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. That's a remarkable list.
Brubeck has performed and recorded with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic; composed music for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II, and played for presidents from Johnson to Reagan to Obama. When he was only 10 years old, Barack Obama attended a Dave Brubeck concert. I wonder how many people have had a similar experience. I know I did; I was 15.
Brubeck's newsletter says that he will travel less in 2010. But his music is on the road: On Dec. 4, there's a performance of Canticles, and on Dec. 13, La Fiesta de la Posada at churches in Rhode Island. The Baltimore Symphony is playing three nights of Brubeck's Ansel Adams: American in February. And Brubeck recommends the new CD, Quartet San Francisco Plays Brubeck, celebrating the 50th anniversary of Brubeck's huge-selling LP, Time Out.