News Column

Dave Brubeck's Long History of Great Jazz in Pittsburgh

Dec 6, 2012

Scott Mervis

Although Dave Brubeck was a West Coast artist, the famed jazz pianist had a close connection to Pittsburgh, and actually made some history here.

In late December 1967, the classic lineup of the Dave Brubeck Quartet -- featuring drummer Joe Morello, saxophonist Paul Desmond and bassist Eugene Wright -- ended its run of 16 years with a final performance together at the Walt Harper Jazz Workshop in Downtown's Hilton Hotel ballroom.

He told the Post-Gazette at the time that he planned to work on an oratorio, and said, "We'll miss playing together, but the life in general, the traveling, we won't miss."

The year before that, in the summer of '66, he and the group performed to a crowd of more than 5,000 fans at Point State Park with Dizzy Gillespie as part of the Pittsburgh Jazz Festival.

In 1986, it was a different quartet and a different type of project. Mr. Brubeck brought a combo that included his son Chris to Heinz Hall as part of a collaboration with the Murray Louis Dance Company to open the Pittsburgh Dance Council season. PG dance critic Jane Vranish called it an "exhilarating evening of modern jazz and dance."

The following year he played a three-day stint at Harper's nightclub in Oxford Centre, Downtown, at a time when small club engagements were rare for him. Those shows came a month after he had made a historic trip to the former Soviet Union, where he and his group were greeted like rock stars.

His final appearance in Pittsburgh was six years ago, when he performed at a Manchester Craftsmen's Guild gala.

"He was absolutely spectacular," said Marty Ashby, producer of the MCG concert series. "He had the energy of a 50-year-old. He told the story of how [in the '50s] he and his wife had the kids in a station wagon, and he was just about to say, 'This isn't going to work.' They played that one more show, and the place went wild, and he said, 'No, we're going to stick it out.' And then 'Take Five' took off."

In 1990, he shared a similar story with the PG, recalling a visit here in the early '50s with his wife when they had two children. "We stayed the first night in an old hotel by the rail yards, but I couldn't afford even the cheapest room." The next day, they moved to a converted mansion where the conditions were rough. "I tell you," he said, "I almost gave it all up that night."

There are millions of jazz fans around the world who are thankful he didn't.

Source: (c)2012 the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Distributed by MCT Information Services.

Story Tools Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters