In 2009 a few of us started the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival including a jazz pianist friend of mine, Bill Edgar. Bill recently sent me a book written by Stephen Crist, “Dave Brubeck’s Time Out.” One particular episode recalled the history of jazz when I was in college and intersected with my promotion of Dave Brubeck’s Quartet in concert at Westminster College in 1960.
Dave Brubeck helped break the color barrier in performance jazz in the United States. The music, often a swinging blend of melody, harmony and rhythm, brought together extraordinary black and white musicians. And in the case of Brubeck, who earned a front cover on Time magazine in 1954, he was ready to bring his interracial quartet to colleges in the South. His bass player was Eugene Wright, an African American.
In 1960 a booking agent had put together a tour of 30 colleges and universities in the South. When Brubeck’s agent told him to get a white bass player he refused. The result: the cancellation of 27 of the gigs. All but Jacksonville University, Vanderbilt and University of the South cancelled. His agent hustled to open up more venues and according to Crist, the tour was ”notable for its brevity—containing only the three Southern schools, plus four in the Midwest……”. I am reasonably certain one of those Midwest schools was Westminster and my quite vivid introduction to jazz up close.
The book also recounts that Dave Brubeck and his wife Iola composed what they hoped would be a Broadway musical starring Louis Armstrong and Carmen McCrae called The Real Ambassadors. While a full production didn’t reach Broadway, Brubeck and Armstrong headlined a performance of the score at both the Monterey Jazz Festival and Jazz at Lincoln Center’s Dave Brubeck Festival. The Brubeck’s knew the real ambassador of jazz.
There are many youtube videos of the music the Brubeck’s wrote for Louis Armstrong and Carmen McCrae. But, in homage to the present moment here is a delightful rendition of Summer Song from the score – click here.
Interestingly, I suspect Easton is a small town epicenter for jazz. Since the beginning of the Monty Alexander Jazz Festival 12 years ago there has been a multiplication of jazz concerts available. This year’s Festival opens on Friday, September 3rd.
Al Sikes is the former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission under George H.W. Bush. Al writes on themes from his book, Culture Leads Leaders Follow published by Koehler Books.