May 12, 2013. Posted by Becca Pulliam.
Just before 4:00 Saturday afternoon, thunder clapped outside St. John the Divine on Amsterdam and 113th St. Inside, Dave's widow Iola Brubeck spoke, her voice steady, strong and lower pitched than I expected. She and Dave were married for 70 years. Since her husband's death, Mrs. Brubeck and her family have received and read hundreds of letters, she said, and the word JOY kept popping up. They planned this celebration to capture some of that joy.
She went on to say (paraphrasing) that she and Dave first entered this cathedral on Duke Ellington's birthday, April 29, 1976 - two years after his death. The event was called Ellington Forever. The Duke Ellington Orchestra played, Mercer Ellington directing, with the Youth Symphony Orchestra and a choir, a constellation of guest artists, a United Nations of diplomats, and First Lady Betty Ford in attendance.
An arc from Duke through Dave touched down on us yesterday in this, the world's largest cathedral, full of people from stem to stern. We gathered for stories and music. Sirius XM's Mark Ruffin hosted. Twenty-eight musicians performed, sharing the Brubeck impulses toward justice and joy.
Dave and Iola's daughter Cathy told us how she would dance, crash and twirl around the living room as her dad and brothers played. She introduced Matthew, Darius, Chris and Dan Brubeck on cello, piano, bass and drums and "Cathy's Waltz." Then in a smooth sequence varied groups offered a Japanese melody, a blues with lyric by Iola, piano duet on "The Duke," "The Golden Horn" composed on the Turkish phrase for "Thank you" featuring exceptional moments from Renee Rosnes and trumpeter Randy Brecker, and a movement from Dave's ballet Glances. Chris and Dan Brubeck were recurrent players on bass and drums.
In letters read by Dave's producer Russell Gloyd, Mayor Bloomberg and President Clinton both noted that the first jazz concerts they ever saw were Dave Brubeck concerts. (Me too. Milwaukee. 1965?) Clinton wrote that - at age 15 - after he persuaded a dear friend to drive him 50 miles to see Brubeck, "I went home and practiced until my lips bled." In 1994 Clinton presented Brubeck with a National Medal of the Arts.
Eugene Wright, the bassist and sole survivor of the Dave Brubeck Quartet of 1958-67, played "King For A Day" with Darius Brubeck on piano. Dave was quoted as saying that Wright had a "Jackie Robinson kind of dignity." Wright's full, round tone is still a joy, 45 years later. In 1962 President Kennedy invited the Brubeck Quartet to play at a party for White House interns. Tony Bennett joined them with no rehearsal on four tunes. Columbia Records recently discovered the tapes, misfiled, and on May 28 will release this momento from Camelot. From it we heard "There Will Never Be Another You," fast and swinging and present, and Tony Bennett stepped up to say that when he sang with Dave at Newport, the New Orleans Festival and Montreal, it was always spontaneous and unexpected.
Branford Marsalis interpreted "For Iola" on soprano, a beautiful reading. Chick Corea was the only pianist to play alone, "Strange Meadowlark." Young graduates of the Brubeck Institute in California played "Blue Rondo a la Turk," and there was a great short session on "Blues for Newport" with the tick tock of a clock built into the melody.
St. John the Divine is so reverberant that Iola - in her welcome - suggested that music from the 1985 performance of Dave's Mass to Hope might still be present in the space. I hope it is true of yesterday's shared joy as well.
© 2013 WBGO
November 18, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.
Wednesday night one of WBGO's originals unspooled stories about three chapters in her life to a room full of curious people at a Jazz Research Roundtable at Rutgers Newark. She told us about her marriage to musician Rahsaan Roland Kirk, early days at WBGO, and involvement with the arts at Bethany Baptist Church in Newark. Rather than interrogate her, Professor Lewis Porter just steered a little and listened closely. We all did. Forty additional remote viewers watched a live stream.
Long story short, as Dorthaan likes to say, Rahsaan was an amazing man. The two met in Los Angeles through friends. In time, they married and she moved to the Northeast, ultimately to New Jersey, where they lived until his death in 1977. Rahsaan had thousands of record albums -- 4,000 when they made the final move from Philadelphia to East Orange. Dorthaan created a detailed index card for every LP (I love this story) and packed the albums alphabetically in boxes. Movers transported the boxes to their new home, where Dorthaan shelved the albums in perfect order, as her husband needed them to be.
Rahsaan was blind, you see, although he did not favor that word or the term "circular breathing" (one of his amazing techniques). He lived in a world of sound. His dreams were his religion. After a gig, as she drove him home, he would comment that he could have played faster (no one could keep up with him). He was a good businessman, provider and visionary, not only about music but also about how jazz could be better organized. He was in demand 365 nights a year. He took his wife with him to London (Ronnie Scott's), Paris, beyond, and introduced her to people everywhere, people who stay in touch today.
THE NEXT CHAPTER: I'LL HIRE HER
After Rahsaan's death in 1977, Dorthaan was regrouping at one. One of his young friends from public radio in Boston called to tell her about a start-up jazz station in Newark. Steve Robinson and Bob Ottenhoff were transforming the Central High School FM station into an independent organization. Reluctantly, Dorthaan agreed, and Robinson introduced her to Ottenhoff, who said "I'll hire her." ( Oh for the days of job offers, I hope they come again.) At first, DK's contacts in the jazz record business helped 'BGO get new product. But it is more than her connections: it's how she values the musicians as people and artists, in her life and career, that helped set up the station and make it what it is today.
Porter showed a short TV news story from 1986 about the station, then moving into our downstairs studios at 54 Park Place. On camera 25 years ago, a staff woman told the reporter, "We have a one million dollar budget and twenty thousand members" contributing 60% of the revenue.
At Bethany Baptist Church, Dorthaan books Jazz Vespers and other events, and many who came on Wednesday night know her from Bethany. Rutgers graduate student Vincent Gardner of the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra came; so did Philip Thomas from Newark Symphony Hall. Dan Morgenstern of the IJS knew and championed Rahsaan, and came to see Dorthaan at the Jazz Research Roundtable.
Toward the end of the session, Karen Lee Schwarz told Dorthaan her story. Schwarz is a high school music teacher in Asbury Park and studying for her Master's in Jazz at Rutgers Newark . Years ago, she was living around the corner from Dorthaan and Rahsaan and learning the saxophone. Standing on her fire escape, she would practice his "Desolation Blues" and try to attract her neighbor's attention. Did she? Not to the knowledge of anyone at this Jazz Research Roundtable. There are indeed many things we will never know.
© 2011 WBGO
June 29, 2011. Posted by Becca Pulliam.
At the recent Freihofer's Jazz Festival in Saratoga Springs, NY,
Sarah Rasmussen of Baltimore was laying out a hopscotch board.
A motif for a song?
© 2011 WBGO