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My Mentor; My Collaborator; My Father: Dave Brubeck
Frank Oteri, Publisher of NewMusicBox.org, asked me to write a tribute to my Dad. Here it is……(from Chris Brubeck)
Some fathers and sons are lucky enough to have great relationships from childhood to the very end. I’m in that fortunate group. My dad and I did many fantastic things together, from playing jazz gigs all over the world in the very best concert halls, to playing on the edge of our seats during recording sessions that still sound vibrant, to sharing the joy of sitting on the stage surrounded by orchestra and chorus performing not only jazz charts but also my father’s significant body of sacred music. I witnessed his evolution from a jazz musician who could improvise or write a beautiful tune at the drop of a hat to a composer who learned how to orchestrate and slave over score paper for endless hours. As I got older we shared a special composers’ bond when Dave came brimming with enthusiasm to the premieres of orchestral pieces I had been commissioned to write. At this age many in my generation are experiencing the loss of their parents. My situation is a bit different than most because not only did I lose a father, but I lost a dear friend and musical partner. We have been recording, performing, and writing together for over 40 years.
The last recording my dad made was Triple Play – Live at Zankel Music Center with my eclectic Blues/Jazz/Folk/Funk group. Believe it or not, Dave would still get nervous, even at 90! He was our musical guest and we wanted him to play loose and relaxed. Therefore we didn’t tell him we were secretly recording the concert. Sometimes, you gotta roll the dice. He played his ass off! Weeks later he told me he wished we had recorded that gig. What a joy it was to play the tapes for him of the concert he thought was lost to the ethos. He agreed it was damn good and exciting enough to share with others. The terrific reviews prove it is not just a proud son singing his dad’s praises.
One of the last concerts my father played was with me and my brothers on Father’s Day, June 19, 2011, at Ravinia outside of Chicago. I think it was fitting that our father, the family man, played his last American gig with his sons. My youngest brother Matthew plays jazz cello, Dan is on drums, Darius is also on piano, and I’m on electric fretless bass and trombone. It was a joy to perform Dave’s inspiring compositions. We made some beautiful music together, got a great review from the Chicago Tribune and then our old man went to Montreal for his last gig before “hanging up his spurs.”
The last major piece my father and I composed together premiered in 2009. I had received a commission to write an orchestral tone poem inspired by 101 Ansel Adams photographs that were to be projected over the orchestra. I brought my dad into the piece because I wanted to experience the joy of working with him on one more project before it was too late. Some sons go camping or on a fishing trip with their fathers when they know that time is winding down. I wanted to create a new musical work with my dad. He insisted he was too old to get involved, but my wife and I got my mother to read Ansel Adams’s autobiography to Dave. He started to see the similarities between Ansel and himself: The fact that Ansel was a budding concert pianist before he became a photographer was enticing. So was the fact that both Dave and Ansel grew up in Northern California. Both had learning disabilities that were greatly alleviated through the process of learning to play the piano. Their creativity germinated in relative isolation (my dad grew up as a cowboy on a 45,000-acre ranch and Ansel fell in love with the stunning landscapes of Yosemite) and their talents helped to transform their genres and built bridges that delivered a new perception of jazz and photography as “legitimate” art forms. Dad resonated with Ansel Adams’s story and finally we won him over. I am proud of the piece we composed together which has been played dozens of times and just had its very successful European premiere. Dad was too frail to make the West Coast premiere, but was finally able see a performance for the first time when the Temple University Orchestra played Ansel Adams: America at Lincoln Center. An excellent recording was made by the gifted young players at Temple and it was released a few months ago. But the story doesn’t end there.
When my father had a heart attack on the morning of December 5, he was just one day shy of his 92nd birthday. After a Christmas concert with Triple Play in Nebraska the night before, I was driving on a highway to the Omaha airport when I got a call from my wife, Tish, telling me that my dad had been rushed to the hospital by ambulance. About a half hour later a second call delivered the numbing news that he didn’t make it. The highway just kept coming at me in hypnotic rhythm as I tried to wrap my head around this new reality. I always thought Dave would go on tour sometime and just never come back. He belonged to the road and to the world, it seemed, as much as he belonged to our family. It was surreal, he wasn’t on the road this time but I was–literally. After five hours in the car and two flights, I finally got home to my parents’ house pretty late at night. There was a tearful reunion with my family comforting each other with loving hugs. About midnight Tish and I got back to our own house nearby. I opened up my computer for the first time that day and was overwhelmed by the emails that cascaded in from all over the world. One caught my eye because it said “Congratulations.” This seemed a bit out of place, so I opened it. This is how I learned that just hours after my dad left the planetAnsel Adams: America had received a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Composition. This felt like my dad was winking at me, grinning and giving me a congratulatory hug from the other side. It was a beautiful lift when my spirits were sagging and it helps me believe in magic and miracles and to keep looking at life in a positive light. My dad always did. He overcame a lot of things and had tremendous inner strength. He loved the old standard “Sunny Side of The Street” and just for kicks he would often romp through it with unbridled joy.
For those of you who didn’t know him, here are some things I learned from my “old man” that might interest you and maybe even help you as you try to lead a musical life path.
Find a great partner to share your life with. In my dad’s case it was my mother, Iola Whitlock. Because his mother, my Grandma Bessie, insisted he endure one of college’s rituals, he reluctantly went to the senior dance. My dad was already doing lots of little jazz gigs. He was happy playing but very uncomfortable at the thought of dancing. Therefore, he asked around the campus to see who was the smartest and most intelligent conversationalist. Turns out that there was a drama major named Iola Whitlock who was smart as a whip and beautiful too. Iola and Dave went to the dance, talked all night, never danced, and when the sun came up had decided then and there to get married. Over the decades she supported my father’s dreams, wrote a lot of great lyrics and librettos, and never doubted his creative vision. She even managed him at first, and was the first person to come up with the idea of presenting jazz on college campuses. She somehow found the time to raise us six kids, too! My parents were married an astounding 70 years, and what a spectacular adventure they had!
Value what is original about your approach to music. After World War II, my dad studied at Mills College on the GI Bill with the French composer Darius Milhaud. Milhaud had fled the Nazis when they took Paris and ended up in California teaching at Mills. My father had dreams of learning how to write in the sophisticated European tradition. Milhaud scolded him, saying that the only original thing about American music was jazz and he should try to incorporate that wonderful language into the symphonic realm. My dad followed his advice, eventually teaming up with Leonard Bernstein in some of the earliest collaborations that featured the integration of the classical and jazz genres. Dave went on to write many beautiful cantatas for orchestra, chorus, and jazz group.
Stick to your guns. Dave had exactly two lessons with Arnold Schoenberg in L.A. At the end of the first lesson he was told to write something and bring it back for the second lesson. Dave was proud of what he wrote and when he played it for Schoenberg the next week, A.S. stopped him in the first bar demanding to know why Dave chose the 2nd note he had written. My dad replied “because it sounded good.” Schoenberg went on a tirade saying that that was not a good enough reason to choose a note. Dad dared to ask what made him the sole arbiter of what was a right or wrong note. Schoenberg pointed to the tall book cases filled with scores that lined his studio and said he knew more about Western music than anyone else alive and that is why he had the authority to enforce his musical opinions. For better or worse that was Dave’s last lesson with the great Schoenberg. The rest of dad’s life he kept creating his melodies because of their emotional meaning to him. His intuitive melodic and harmonic instincts served him well and as a member of his band I have witnessed him improvise gorgeous and moving music countless times. When I heard this passionate music come out of him (and Milhaud was also impressed by this innate ability) it would occur to me that my dad was a genius. Thinking back though, in my father’s first major oratorio, The Light in the Wilderness, which is a very tonal piece based on the teachings of Jesus, he created a passage where the twelve disciples were introduced by each singing their own note in a twelve-tone row. It was quite dramatic especially when Judas starting singing “Repent” on a high and straining dissonant note. So something rubbed off from his Schoenberg encounter.
Being a composer is time consuming and is hard work. My dad fell way short in the carousing department. He left that to his friend and musical partner, Paul Desmond. They lived vicariously through each other, Paul being the swinging jazz bachelor with a penchant for Dewars Scotch and serial, intelligent, cutting-edge women. I think a part of Paul always thought of us kids and my mother as his surrogate family. Dave would not hang out and drink or whatever with the other musicians. He would go home to his wife and kids and work. He toured so much that he learned out of necessity to start writing on airplanes. When he was home, people were amazed to see that he had an upright piano elevated on woodblocks so that it would be at the best height for him to ride his stationary bike and pump his legs quickly while he simultaneously practiced piano and composed. That man could compress time one way or another.
Perseverance. In the early days my dad was leading a group of musicians who were all former students of Milhaud. It was known as The Octet. They played very interesting music, but only got three gigs in a year. So Dave started doing trio gigs in the Bay Area. One early joint was the Burma Lounge in Oakland. Clint Eastwood told me he used to sneak in as a kid to see my old man. When Dad tried to add Desmond to the group the club owner said it was ruining the band. But they stuck together and it was obvious they had a special sound and it needed to be recorded. Dad went to every record company trying to get signed. They all turned him down. We were really poor in those early days. When we went on the road, we would stay in old hotels that had cavernous closets—most times the closets were the best thing going for them. My older brothers Darius and Mike traveled with sleeping bags for those closets, that was their part of the “suite.” My parents got the bed and when I was a baby apparently I fit nicely in the dresser drawer with some blankets piled underneath me. We thought it was fun—indoor camping! We saved money up as a family because dad had to start his own record company to get his music out there. Perhaps you have heard of it—Fantasy Records! His partners were sons of a man who owned a record pressing plant. Dave supplied the talent, and they manufactured the recordings. Critics noticed, and the vinyl started moving. Then his partners screwed him out of the company. He was thrown off his own label due to some legal shenanigans. But once he was forced out of Fantasy, Columbia Records signed him and with their mammoth distribution the rest is history. By the way, his groundbreaking LP Time Out was held back by Columbia for a couple of years because it broke all the rules. The music was in odd time signatures, it was all original compositions instead of “show tunes” (songs for which Columbia owned a piece of the publishing), and did not have a foxy girl on the cover but had modern art instead. Columbia’s marketing department didn’t know what to do with it. Goddard Lieberson intervened. That was back in the days when musicians, not lawyers and accountants, ran record companies. Goddard went against the rest of Columbia and told them to put it out. Ironically, for a long time people resented Time Out’s enormous commercial success and held it against dad. But he was just pursuing his vision and created something so original that it succeeded against all odds. It all happened because he got screwed out of Fantasy Records. You never know: In the long run, a setback can be a blessing in disguise. Keep the faith!
Stay Humble. Though my dad ended up playing for presidents, the Pope, kings, and queens, he never lost his respect for the average Joe. One of his favorite people to hang out with was a gardener who helped take care of things at home when dad was on the road. This old Italian knew the earth and it wasn’t because he had a degree in botany—he just loved the land, and so did my dad. Dad grew up as a cowboy and would vividly describe to us when he used to work for a dollar a day from sunrise to sunset. He lived through the Great Depression. He made it through World War II. He could never understand how Christian civilizations that purported to follow the teachings of Christ could do such horrible things to each other. During the war, he vowed that if he lived, he would write music that would help illuminate the true teachings of Christ. He reached tens of thousands of people with his “classical music” and reminded people of the teachings of Jesus the philosopher, not Jesus the icon of “Churchianity.” He very, very rarely had an unkind word for anyone. It was a bit infuriating sometimes; he was so noncommittal in his analysis of some of the people we had to deal with. I have a more mercurial tongue and if I ever ventured a negative opinion about someone he would say, “Yes, and that is his mother sitting right behind you.” He set a very high bar in that department.
You have no idea what your music means to someone else. We did a tour of Russia in 1987. I remember leaving at five in the morning on a bus that was in front of our hotel which would take us to the airport. It was bitter cold, and an older woman had been standing outside our bus hoping to possibly see Dave when he came out to the bus to leave. She had a medal on a chain that she gave to dad because her deceased husband had loved his music so much, and she had promised her husband that she would somehow find a way to give his medal to my father. It was very moving and I felt for this woman. Compassion about fans was bred into our family at a very early age. This is a true story:
One Christmas Eve as our family sat around in our California home in the late ‘50s my father got a phone call. He came back with a remarkable expression on his face. He told us kids to quiet down and told us a longer version of this story. Someone in New York City had just called to say that a man had crawled out on a ledge to end his life by jumping many floors to the cold asphalt below. Police officers and a police psychiatrist tried to talk the man down off the ledge but he was just so despondent they didn’t succeed. Friends were called in and asked if they would come to the apartment and try to talk to him and get him to come back inside. Nothing had worked and the situation seemed grim. Dad was called because a friend of a friend knew the person who said the words that finally got the jumper to come back inside. He apparently was told: “If you jump, you won’t hear Dave Brubeck’s next album.” That motivated the man to come back inside. Years later, this story sounds like a New Yorker cartoon, but at the time my dad was in such a state of wonderment that it made me see, from my six-year-old perspective, that we are all connected in hard to fathom ways.
You have no idea what your words may mean to some else. A few years ago, when my dad was already older, he agreed to sit with Ken Burns and his crew to talk about his memories and the meaning of jazz in America. I wasn’t there (madly writing on deadline across town) but later in the day I called dad and asked him how the interview went. My father told me that he blew it. I asked him what he meant by that. He said that he talked about racism in America and recalled the story of how his father, Grandpa Pete (the Cowboy), took my dad as a kid to see a man Pete knew. Pete also knew that this person had been whipped when he had been a slave. Pete told my dad that that was no way to ever treat fellow human beings. Then this fellow took off his shirt and showed little Dave his scarred back. When my dad relayed that story on camera, he got deeply emotional and cried. That’s why my dad said he blew it. But when the Ken Burns series about jazz came out, Ken himself told me that the story Dave told and his anguish which was caught on camera became the emotional centerpiece of the entire documentary. My father’s humanity came through loud and clear in that segment. Another crazy thing came out of it, too. Many of the jazz critics who saw that film and kind of enjoyed beating up my dad or dismissing him in print for his vast popularity over the last 50 years were also moved. There was a very public reassessment of Dave’s talents, originality, durability, and humanity. The family man who was too good to be true maybe really was a great guy who was too good to be true. It is not his fault that he created music that lots of people loved.
I could go on and on describing some of the great things my father did and said to many over his 90+ years. What I have written here is the tip of the iceberg. My mother has been working on a book for the last several years and she had pretty much finished it in the last few months. She chose to end the book at the Kennedy Center Honors, which may have been the pinnacle of Dad’s remarkable life. In addition to Bill Charlap, Jon Faddis, Christian McBride, Miguel Xenon, Bill Stewart, and Herbie Hancock, the producers wanted to surprise Dave by having my brothers and I play during the concert. Dave had originally requested that we play but was “turned down” by the director, to Dave’s great disappointment. However, there was a deep conspiracy between the producers and me and my three brothers. Even our own sister and my son who lives in Washington didn’t know, and certainly mom and dad had no clue that we were going to play. You can see the moment the camera caught dad in disbelief as he sat in the box next to Obama. Watch and you will see the old Cowboy mouth the words, “Son of a bitch!!!”
What a night that was. It was full cycle and poignant. Dave fought hard for civil rights in the ‘40s and ‘50s and here he was hanging out with our first African-American president. In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama describes his father (whom he saw only a few days in his life) taking him to see his first jazz concert in Honolulu, which happened to be my dad, my brothers, and I playing together those many years ago.
I’ll leave you with one of my dad’s favorite lines, which was what Eubie Blake said on the occasion of his 100th birthday tribute: “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself!”
No one lives forever, my dad did his best and led an astounding life. It was great to be on that incredible ride with him.
Blog #8 - St. Petersburg, The Hermitage, and Cats!We arrived in St. Petersburg cloaked in a dreary mist after rumbling through the Russian countryside on the overnight train from Moscow. When we got to our hotel we had about 15 minutes to take a reviving shower before heading straight to the Hermitage for a special tour. Our young guide, Daria, took us on a whirlwind sprint through the legendary museum that was bursting with amazing art, artifacts, architecture, and history. We avoided the 3 hour line at the main entrance and were whisked into the special entrance nearest the beautiful little “jewel-box” theater built during Catherine the Great’s era. We were on a tight schedule because in a couple of hours there would be a workshop rehearsal of a new piece for actors and chamber orchestra titled “The Hermitage Cats Save the Day.” The script is being written by Mary Ann Allin who is leading the collaboration with a Russian theatrical Director and cast, plus musicians who will perform this new work in the Spring of 2013. I had been asked to compose music for this new piece and in the days prior to our departure from the USA I wrote furiously to create music to put on the stands for the musicians I was about to meet in St. Petersburg. At least there were two known performers in this new endeavor, Maxim would play flute and Vlad would be the conductor, play trumpet and also have quite a few lines as an actor. More about this project in a few paragraphs.
In addition to seeing the world famous Hermitage Museum we were scheduled to visit the famous cats that live in the basement. These cats have been around since the days of Catherine the Great, and to be clear, I don’t mean that they are immortal, nor do I mean they are direct descendants. Sadly after the horrific siege of Leningrad in World War II, the cats were no longer in existence. Roughly 1.5 million people died in that atrocity and so did the cats. Other Russian cities sent train cars filled with cats to restore the decimated population of Leningrad and to take care of the overflowing rat population. So here we are in 2012 crawling around the basement of the Hermitage where the cats have lived for centuries. I am a tall fellow so I was hunched over most of the time. Above me were a labyrinth of heating and plumbing pipes. Clever cats were perched on them, staying warm and looking down at us. Others scampered around the basement corridors. Children’s paintings of cats hung on the walls. I was in the midst of a living tradition that spawned the annual Russian celebration “The Day of The Cats” which occurs each April. On that day next year our musical theater project will be performed for the children of St. Petersburg!Catherine the Great’s Theater at The HermitageTwo of the Cats in the Hermitage BasementOur group was joined by another contingent of creative people from The University of Alabama. This included Diane Schultz on flute from the faculty there, and Dawn Sandel on guitar and voice who is a musical therapist. Also Paul Looney, a director from Tuscaloosa who will shepherd the 1st production of “The Hermitage Cats Save the Day” in America, two months before the Russian premiere. A few weeks later they will perform the children’s piece at The National Gallery in Washington. These folks are in St Petersburg on an additional mission as well, they are trying to bring the idea of Music Therapy to Russia. It basically does not exist as a concept in the Russian culture. Vlad and Max were visiting hospitals with this crew to demonstrate how musicians can reach people with severe challenges in a way that medicine cannot. It is hard to believe that our new friends were amongst the first musicians to penetrate the Russian mindset on this subject.
In addition to their hospital visits these folks were involved in the rehearsal with the other Russian musicians at the theater in The Hermitage. This first reading for the ensemble (which included clarinet, violin, double bass, cello, 2 flutes, guitar, and percussion) revealed that my speed-writing of the first two scenes prior to our departure was working well with the script. The concept is for the actors and musicians to interact with the children in the audience in ways that are supposed to be entertaining and therapeutic. So here I am, pinching myself again, amazed that my wife, Tish, and I are involved in such a unique composing project half way round the world.
The next night the Brubeck Brothers Quartet was honored to play the first jazz concert ever in the new and highly acclaimed Mariinsky Concert Hall. The American Consul General, Bruce Turner, attended the well-received concert which many in our entourage considered our best. This was a fitting end to our musical collaborations with Vlad and Maxim. It was going to be a bit of a culture shock to return home. I picked up a book to read on our long flight back to America. It was a beautiful novel called “The Madonnas of Leningrad.” This is a fascinating story about an old woman in her 90’s who is battling Alzhimers and slips in and out of her present time reality to her days as a museum guide at the Hermitage in the 1940’s. She was also one of the hundreds that packed up all the artwork, and sculptures, storing them into crates to either be taken by train to secret locations, or hidden, sometimes even buried to keep the Nazis from seizing the national treasures of Russia. To put things in perspective, the basement where we visited the cats is also where thousands of people lived during the siege of Leningrad. That fact was not in the official tour guide spiel, but it was in the novel and it is also the remarkable truth. This Russian tour was one that none of us will ever forget.Tish & Chris at the Church of the Spilled BloodL-R, David Goloshchekin, Mary Ann Allin, Maxim Rubstov, Vlad LavrikChris, Veronique Turner, American Consul General Bruce Turner,Chuck, Dan, Public Affairs Officer Steven Labensky, Backstage at Mariinsky
9/22 - The Moscow Conservatory - Blog #7September 22, 2012 - The Moscow Conservatory:The concert at the famous Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory was designed to be very different. The Moscow Conservatory still doesn’t teach Jazz but its across-town rival, the Gnessen Conservatory does. In fact, they have a very strong big band that sounds like one of the top bands at North Texas State. The Gnessen Big Band was a featured part of this concert organized by Vlad called “Brass Days.” They opened the concert, roaring through 3 tunes. Not only did these young jazz musicians sound great but they were having so much fun on stage it was contagious. The BBQ followed and we were all conscious that it was such an honor to play our style of music in these hallowed halls.The Great Hall really is the Russian equivalent of Carnegie Hall where so many of the great Russian composers studied and performed. Dave Brubeck broke the jazz barrier here about 20 years ago when he performed his Mass “To Hope” with orchestra, chorus and jazz quartet. This wonderful work integrates both Classical and Jazz and is very moving as it follows the traditional structure of the Mass. In addition to breaking the jazz barrier, this was amongst the first Catholic Concert Mass performances since the Soviet powers loosened their restrictions of religious music. So in the case of Dan and I we were indeed following in our father’s footsteps. The audience for the Brubeck Brothers Quartet was very enthusiastic and after a good set we readied ourselves for the fireworks after intermission.The Great Hall at the Moscow ConservatoryGnessen Big BandWe played the “Allegre” Mvt. by Claude Bolling featuring Vlad on trumpet. Then we we featured Maxim on flute playing another Bolling piece. The BBQ jazzed things up with Chuck Lamb’s tune “Girl from Massapequa.” Maxim stayed on to play the up tempo samba melody with us and blew a solo after Mike and Chuck. The Gnessen Big Band came back out and played an original piece I wrote called “Bourbon Street Stroll.” The young musicians really wanted to play this piece and they fought hard to include it even though it was a bit “far out” compared to their usual material. They tore it up. This is a funky, big band chart that is often “struttin in a street” savvy seven.Next we did a tune by Charlie Mingus with Mike DeMicco joining their band for a guitar solo along with me taking 4 choruses on trombone. We had so much fun playing together! Their much venerated conductor was getting the entire audience to clap along. It was a joyful experience that Mingus would have loved to have seen. A month before I had emailed over a big band arrangement of “Blue Rondo a la Turk” which Dave’s conductor Russel Gloyd had created years ago. This 9/8 masterpiece with an extended blues section in the middle was a blast with both BBQ and the Big Band playing side by side. We closed with Take 5 with our group plus Max and Vlad and then added 2 young sax players from the Gnessen troops. One young alto player was outstanding and it turns out he was from Cuba studying at the Gnessen Conservatory on a full ride scholarship. Dan played a killer drum solo while large images of Mussorgsky, Rimsky Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Shostakovich, Glinka, Beethoven, Bach, Mozart and others stared down from the balcony ring facade. The place was rocking and the crowd went wild. But no time for an encore because we had to race to the train station to ride the “all nighter” to St. Petersburg.What a scramble, but we pulled away from the Conservatory with just enough time to get ourselves and all our instruments and luggage on to the train. Vlad gave us a demonstration of proper Russian toasting with Vodka as we took over the dining car. We rattled down the tracks heading towards the Baltic feeling very happy about the concert and happier yet with the newly learned “Vodka etiquette” coursing through our blood stream. When you wake up the next morning and you are 6’ 5” having attempted to sleep in a 5’10” bed with 3 too many toasts under your belt, that is a one-way ticket on the Disoriented Express. More about our wild day in St. Petersburg, next blog.Vlad & ChuckOne more Toast!
Sept 21- Samara - Blog #6September 21, 2012 - Samara:The morning after our gig with the Red Piano we drove 4 hours by van up towards one of the Moscow Airports. We stopped at a rest stop that had a little roadside church unlike anything you might see in America. Even more surprising is that when you went into this VERY small church it was filled with religious Icons and the haunting sounds of monks chanting in a transcendental manner. (A recording that possessed surround sound quality.) Tish and I were surprised that this tiny roadside chapel could be so spiritually transporting. While we were inside drifting off into a foreign religious universe a group of 6 school girls squeezed in and joined us. They were not wearing headphones and giggling or cracking jokes … impressively they too were enchanted by the serious and serene vibe of the little church. A sweet moment of contemplation and a snapshot of Russian life that took us by surprise.Roadside ChapelInside the Roadside ChapelWe collided with massive amounts of traffic in Moscow on our way to the airport, but finally boarded the plane to Samara with little trouble thanks to Maxim’s magical “female airline ladies melt in his presence” trick. 2-1/2 hours later we landed at Samara and on our way to the hotel, stopped by the music academy where we were playing the next day to check out the equipment and were happy to discover that the drums were playable and the amps actually worked.The following morning, we drove back to the school where we were to hear young jazz students in an outreach program sponsored by Alcoa. The program started with sung greetings by a charming, traditional, young girls chorus who presented us with a ceremonial loaf of bread which we were told to nibble on. Then we heard 2 college aged women, a jazz violinist accompanied by a pianist, playing “Cantaloupe Island” by Herbie Hancock. They were pretty good and we thought it would be fun for us to jump up on stage with the violinist and perform the piece again. Everyone loved that collaborative vibe, so we kept joining various musicians after they played for us. There was a nice rendition by a young lady playing Dave’s tune “Far More Blues.” A good college aged guitarist jammed a duet with Mike. I did a duet with a teen-aged trombonist and then we played a a few tunes for them with Max and Vlad. 2 hours of happy musical exchange flew by and then it was time to pack up, head out to the airport and fly back to Moscow. Tomorrow: The Moscow Conservatory concert at the most legendary concert hall in Russia.Welcome Song in SamaraMike and Student Guitarist
More Stories from Efremov: Blog 5Efremov, Chapter 2, September 19, 2012My last writings described our charming visit to the small music academy in Efremov. So I will continue our BBQ adventures from that point. After the master classes at the school, we hastily packed up our equipment and headed off to the big auditorium in town for our public concert. I had been there in the morning to try to scout out and scavenge up enough equipment to do our evening gig. I won’t bore you with all the details but we were looking for resources within the town to supplement the sound system. It had become a matter of local pride that we shouldn’t bring in equipment all the way from Moscow for our concert; it could be handled by the resources right there in small but proud and unified Efremov.
This attitude led to interesting encounters as I did detective work on finding equipment. I was led to interrupt a rock band rehearsal to see if there were amps that I could borrow. I investigated nabbing the sound speakers from a disco/restaurant. I worked with Lena from Cargill to get additional monitor speakers from a different building in the local government. A very bright, English speaking, large and jolly fellow who was high up on the tech side of the Cargill administration, (Mikhail, but we dubbed him “Big Mike”) was immensely helpful. He provided a guitar amp, some cables, desperately needed tech knowledge, translations to the man operating the mixer and a digital back-up piano from his home. Plus we brought all the equipment we had used in the school program. The center piece of our concert was already in place at the hall. The striking 9 ft grand piano which had been painted and lacquered in a stunning shade of RED!Lenin Watching over Rehearsal Room, EfremovThe Red Piano!
The hall itself was probably built by the communist regime in the 60’s. It was a large rectangle with high ceilings and adorned with hanging objects that looked like giant, star shaped metal space fragments dangling from the sky. I dubbed the architectural style “sputnik modernism” (now a half century old.) They also had installed some “wild and crazy” lights, including swirling laser galaxy projections which were launched with little discretion. The large dressing room, I think in our honor, had been freshly painted in pink. This also produced a quasi-toxic level of fumes that made us all choke the minute we went in there so we changed our pants and left in a flurry of coughing fits. But the most memorable thing about the hall was that it was absolutely packed with the townsfolk who really did regard this as a special and somewhat historic occasion. Because of all the technical difficulties involved with integrating all the borrowed equipment we ate up all the time we were hoping to spend on rehearsal. So in addition to our normal BBQ repertoire, we played the “Allegre” Movement of Claude Bolling’s piece for trumpet and jazz trio. This featured Vlad Lavrik, Chuck, Dan and myself. We played it once with him about 5 years ago in Connecticut but had just missed our only chance to rehearse it. I asked the audience’s indulgence to let us try to play something that we were practically reading. They applauded and signaled they were ready for the musical experiment. Amazingly it went vey well. Go figure.
We also played the “Sentimentale” Mvt. from Bolling’s piece for Flute and jazz trio. This featured the dashing Maxim Rubstov and he had the crowd swooning and weeping with his golden tone and romantic approach to the composition. Maxim is amazing and we have put his flirtatious skills to work with the group. We have flown a couple of times now and to save on overweight charges Max takes my trombone ON the plane. (Something I could never get away with in the States because the case is flight-worthy and therefore WAY too big for the overhead bins.) Max shows up lugging this thing and the Airline ladies say no this is impossible, he bats his eyelids, says something charming, and their will to resist melts as if he were Mr. Spock from Star Trek doing the Vulcan Mind Meld trick. What an asset for our traveling troupe of Ruskies and Yanks. We have a lot of fun together! They ask us to teach them more English and they try to teach us how to properly toast and drink Vodka; lessons in decorum that are repeated multiple times every night after our concerts!Please let me take my Trombone on the Plane. Time to Head to SamaraThe concert was a wonderful success and we were brought upstairs right away to meet the mayor of Efremov and other important people from the community. This included several American families from Minneapolis who had moved to Russia. The mayor led many toasts, and the Vodka was flying in an official capacity at this point. ”Uh-oh,” I was thinking because we had to hit the road early the next morning for a 4 hour drive to the Moscow airport and a 3-hour flight to Samara. We left Efremov a bit toasted, but feeling like there was a lot of heartfelt exchange between we Americans and the citizens of the small but proud community! Mission accomplished, off to the next adventure.