Dave Brubeck was one of my favorite musicians.
There are two particularly strong reasons for this. The first is that I remember dancing around my parents’ house as a kid, maybe 7 or 8 years old at the youngest, to the entirety of “Jazz at Oberlin.” Much as I love “Time Out,” both as music in its own right and as a wild experiment, “Jazz at Oberlin” is the one that to my ears really captures the best of Mr. Brubeck. Twenty years later, I know the album inside and out and never tire of it.
The other really strong memory is when my family watched Ken Burns’ “Jazz” documentary. There were a handful of interview clips with Mr. Brubeck, and the one that still gives me chills doesn’t have anything to do with music. It was about racism. He talked about having seen a black man who’d been whipped, his back crossed with lacerations, and how he knew in his gut that what he saw was wrong. Nobody could watch him speak about that experience and doubt for a second that this was a really good, sincere man.
When my dad made me a compilation of the best 500 songs of jazz, he included three tunes by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. One of them is probably my favorite take of one of my favorite jazz standards. It’s the final track on “Jazz at Oberlin” and it’s glorious. I could try to articulate why I particularly love Mr. Brubeck’s playing, but I’m just going to listen to this song a few times through the day.