Paul Greenberg

"Time Out" would become the first American jazz album to sell a million copies. For once, contrary to Mr. Mencken, it had paid to over-estimate the taste of the American public. To this day, "Time Out," with its signature track, "Take Five," stands alongside Miles Davis' "Kind of Blue" as American music's equivalent of Europe's classical symphonies, our own Bach and Mozart. It would take its place next to Gershwin's greatest hits as part of the country's musical legacy.

. .

Dave Brubeck proved the perfect choice when Dwight Eisenhower was looking for someone to win hearts and minds in the Cold War. That president was no musician, but having liberated a continent, and ended another war in Asia (on the Korean peninsula), he was determined to keep the Cold War safely cold, and win it at the same time. What better way to do both than enlist the distinctively American music -- jazz -- in the effort? And the distinctly American musician who had revived and refined jazz in his time, making it popular once again? It was the perfect way to let freedom ring all around the Iron Curtain, and remind the world of the dull gray slave empire that lurked behind it.

To quote Mr. Brubeck's long-time manager, Russell Gloyd: "Eisenhower wanted to take the best of America and do a peripheral tour of the Soviet Union." And so the Dave Brubeck Quartet would embark on a world tour in 1958 that took it to Poland, Turkey, India, Pakistan (East and West), Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq. Freedom rang around the globe. Music can say things no speech can.

Much the same happened in 1988, when Brubeck performed for Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at their summit in Moscow. These cultural exchanges were a win-win for America, a sure lose-lose for the Soviets. For their best artists (Rostropovich and Baryshnikov --ah, the young Baryshnikov!) would soon defect while ours would make freedom sound irresistible. Just as it does in Dave Brubeck's music -- with its fine, always new balance between order and liberty. Not unlike that of the U.S. Constitution.


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.