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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published December 29 2012

As I Recall: Jazz great Dave Brubeck visited area several times

The first story about the Dave Brubeck quartet in The Forum files is dated Oct., 23, 1956. The review by Francis Schoff begins: “The Standing Room Only sign was out at NDAC’s Festival Hall Monday night as a packed house of students and townspeople applauded and sometimes whistled in enthusiastic approval of The Dave Brubeck Quartet.”

At the time he played in Fargo, the quartet had already produced many recordings.

I was introduced to Brubeck’s music by Fritz Witti, who at one time was stationed in Fargo with the Associated Press. He and his wife, Jean, were good friends of my parents.

Brubeck started playing piano in local dance bands while in high school. His family lived on a cattle ranch at Ione, Calif. He worked his way through college as a jazz pianist while studying veterinary medicine. My father did likewise as a medical student at Northwestern, but Brubeck changed his major to music. My father did not.

While Schoff didn’t claim to be an authority of contemporary jazz, he gives a fine description of Brubeck’s music: “… it’s clear that the Brubeck group is first class. The fact shows first of all in its crisp and vivid rhythmic designs, some of them with fascinating counterpoint. It shows next in the often brilliantly conceived treatment of themes in improvised variations.”

And Schoff had it right. Brubeck’s music was both fascinating and brilliant.

It was a wonderful concert in that old wooden hall on the college campus. And I will never forget it.

It wasn’t the only time Brubeck performed in Fargo-Moorhead. He returned in 1967 to play at the Concordia College Winter Carnival. At that time members of the quartet besides Brubeck were clarinetist Paul Desmond, drummer Joe Morello and Gene Wright on bass. The concert closed with Paul Desmond’s composition “Take Five,” which in 1963 was the first jazz single to sell a million copies.

Later in 1967, the quartet disbanded.

But in 1969, Brubeck returned to Fargo to perform his oratorio, “The Light in the Wilderness,” at the Music Educators National Conference.

In 1977, The New Brubeck Quartet played a concert at NDSU’s Festival Hall. His children – Darius on keyboard, Chris on electric bass and Danny on drums – completed the quartet. And I was there again, in that wonderful old hall, whooping and whistling and loving every minute.

I had convinced my parents to join me. Dad wasn’t too keen on Brubeck’s jazz style, but that concert changed his mind.

In 1980 Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time magazine, only the second jazz musician to be so honored.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet performed again in 1983 at NDSU, but this time it was in the new Festival Hall, which opened in 1981. And I was there even though I had to miss a cooking class.

His last local performance that I was able to document was in 1987 when the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the Murray Louis Dance Company presented an evening of jazz and modern dance at the Center for the Arts Auditorium at Minnesota State University Moorhead.

Dave Brubeck died on Dec. 5, 2012, the day before his 92nd birthday.

He was still working in November 2011 when he performed at the Blue Note in Manhattan.

The following is from his obituary in the New York Times: “Mr. Brubeck once explained succinctly what jazz meant to him. ‘One of the reasons I believe in jazz,’ he said, ‘is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born – or before you’re born – and it’s the last thing you hear.’ ”

Readers can reach Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com