Your signature was being on time—
mind-blowing rhythmic arrival! Expenditure
of cool jazz temperature,
steady flame in sixty-year fame. You stayed true
to Iola who took your name to the grave
dying fifteen months after you.
You died a day before turning ninety-two.
Humble rancher with a new rhythm running
through nerve-damaged fingers prodding the strings’
vibrational ring, the black and white keys
pressed into long seamless lines of climb and fall,
give and take five responses to every call
of the seed, of the theme, of the truth,
the proof in the doing: the Wolfpack grooving
an uncharted pathway;
the math-play of the Quartet with Gene on the bass
in the race to make music all over the face of the madness
of Jim Crow’s rancorous bandstand.
You made a grand stand at the newsstand—
Time had placed you on the ’54 cover,
the second jazz man after Armstrong to make it.
Your chagrin was not fake, what you said to the Duke
when he knocked on your door,
“That should have been you.”
1. “Cool jazz”: Brubeck is considered a pioneer in this genre of jazz
2. “Iola”: Brubeck’s wife of seventy years!
3. “Humble rancher”: Brubeck was born in Concord, CA, the son of a rancher with early intent to work with his father on the family ranch
4. “Nerve-damaged”: Brubeck suffered a spinal cord injury diving into the surf in Hawaii in 1951 that caused nerve pain to his hands for years afterwards
5. “Take Five”: one of Brubeck’s most famous songs, written and recorded with his Quartet in 1959 on the album Time Out (the first jazz album to sell more than a million copies). Melody written by saxophonist Paul Desmond
6. “Wolfpack”: Brubeck started one of the armed forces first ever racially integrated bands while serving in the military during the early forties
7. “Math-play”: the Dave Brubeck Quartet was famous for composing songs with innovative time-signatures
8. “Gene on the bass”: African American bassist Eugene Wright
9. “Armstrong”: Louis Armstrong was on Time’s cover in 1949
10. “Duke”: Ellington. Brubeck thought the Time cover honor should have gone to Duke Ellington but that he was chosen in part because he was white.
First draft of a tribute poem to Dave Brubeck, in preparation for an upcoming art show called Panoply, featuring the art of Tom Matousek, the music of Tom Patitucci, and my poetry on Monday, March 13, 7:00PM, at the Calicraft Brewery, 2700 Mitchell Drive in Walnut Creek. Everyone welcome to this free event!