Paul Greenberg

Dave Brubeck wasn't just a goodwill ambassador abroad with his music and manner, but at home. No one who ever met him left without a good feeling -- and a good story. Here's one:

It was long ago when she was a bright girl from deep in the heart of Texas, but every night thanks to the miracle of AM radio, she could hear broadcasts from across the country, and now and then a different kind of music would burst through the static. Was it on KMOX out of St. Louis or WWL in New Orleens-Land-of-Dreams that she first heard the Dave Brubeck Quartet?

Anyway, her protective father insisted the young lady give his alma mater at Austin a try -- he'd been a drum major there circa 1925 -- before heading up East to Smith. That's where she heard that Dave Brubeck and his band were going to appear in Dallas. And had to go.

Forbidden to take her little roadster beyond the Austin city limits, she rode a Greyhound to Dallas to make the show, arriving hours early at the hall. Coming out to rehearse, Mr. Brubeck noticed her waiting back in the auditorium, signaled the young lady to come up and take a front-row seat, and made sure she was comfortably settled. So she got a concert before the concert. She thought about the concert(s) all the way back to Austin on the night bus till dawn. The memory would last a lifetime.

That's who Dave Brubeck was, on and off the stage. There was a wide-open Western way about him that was no respecter of age, class and certainly not the musical conventions of his time. He was, in short, California as it used to be: the golden future. Even if, with the news of his death last week a day short of 92, it's now the golden past.

He had this idea, Dave Brubeck did, that the sophisticated themes that informed his own music -- contrapuntal, cool, sure but somehow tentative, like all great explorations -- would intrigue everybody else, too. His recording company tried to tell him his stuff wouldn't go over in This Day and Age, which was the day and age of the three-minute pop single.

Progressive jazz, his producers tried to explain, was becoming just a niche occupied by hobbyists and nostalgists. Nobody else was much interested, and they certainly wouldn't be drawn to his new take on it, with that fifth beat he added to the standard 4/4 measure of American jazz.

Oh, he might be popular on the San Francisco jazz circuit, but this was the real world, man. Nevertheless, he insisted and, what th' heck, he'd been a loyal client, and so they indulged him and let him record his little number.


Paul Greenberg

Pulitzer Prize-winning Paul Greenberg, one of the most respected and honored commentators in America, is the editorial page editor of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.