Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

In case you’re just seeing the news, Dave Brubeck passed away earlier today. Are there any Brubeck records that qualify as real collectibles, say more than $100 in value? In looking at my shelves, I probably have more records by Brubeck than any other artist. Between Fantasy, Columbia, Atlantic and Concord, he had an incredibly prolific recording career. Nice that he was able to achieve the Kennedy Center Honors a couple of years ago while he could still appreciate it.


  • …Just heard the sad news on WBGO. Sadly we all knew this day would come, especially after he retired from touring last year after a show at the Montreal Jazz Festival and one last time out with his sons at the Newport Jazz Festival.

    I was fortunate enough to catch him on stage many many times over the years , but perhaps one of the most memorable will always be the first time I saw him perform live when I was just a kid.
    It was about the age when I was just getting into Jazz, and old enough to be able to go out to catch the early sets at the outdoor summer Jazz festivals. On one particular summer evening the Dave Brubeck Quartet was headlining to a sold out crowd inside one of those massive garden tents the organizer often used to encapsulate the main stage. Unfortunately, like many of the fans in attendance that evening, I did not have a ticket (or the money for one even if they had some left for sale…) but I lingered around outside with all the rest of the faithful waiting to hear some of those timeless notes escaping through the tent flaps and out over the warm night air, and was not disappointed. Back then, they often played two sets, and at the intermission everyone would filter out of the tent and into to a smoking area for some “air”. Although these were fenced in corals, they were not really linked in any serious manner, and I somehow got swept past the barricades and back into the tent along with the sea of smokers returning for the second set… Once inside the tent I recall just hovering around the side of the stage near a cash bar behind some sound equipment until the group returned to the stage. As the music began, my fears of being tossed out soon subsided and I ended up enjoying the rest of the show seated behind a speaker cabinet just along the side of the stage adjacent to Mr. Brubeck. He eventually noticed me there, and seemed to get a kick out of seeing this young kid in a baseball cap squired away behind the speakers in the shadow of the stage. Every now and then he would turn to see me applauding and smile. To this day, that night is something I will never forget !

    Over the years, I would often travel far and wide to hear him play as much as possible, and was even allowed to photograph his performances from the main stage for various Jazz Festivals, allowing me the opportunity to meet him back stage on occasion and say hello, get a photo or the odd first pressing of Time Out signed for my wall here in the office. He once remarked how he didn’t have any more copies of that one in his collection because his secretary kept giving them away ! The joke at the time was that his secretary then happened to be his wife Iola… I made sure the next time we met, that I brought an extra copy of both the original first pressing, and the version with the alternate cover for him as a token of my appreciation, both of which were mounted in a record album frame for his office.

    The last time I met up with Dave, it was after his sold out performance at the’ Festival International de Jazz de Montreal’ back in 2011. I had a portfolio of photos to present to him for his archive from a performance he had done along with the Ottawa Symphony Orchestra a year earlier at another outdoor summer Jazz festival, and we reminisced about how unbearably hot it had been that night on the main stage, and how he had been in the army in his early days, which he said had prepared him for anything. I finally got the opportunity to tell him the story about the first time I caught his quartet as a kid, and how I never forgot that performance. He laughed when I told him how grateful I was that he had not tipped off security that night when he saw me hiding behind the speakers…

    Sadly, this would be the last time we would see him perform again. Thanks for the memories Dave !

  • Superb story, Don-Lucky. Once again I envy you.
    Every once in a while I D.J. a bit at our annual local Jazz Festival during the breaks and band changes, playing all the artists we love so much (you name ’em, I got ’em – requests pour in when the atmosphere is good), including, naturally, Dave Brubeck. And no matter how “cliché” it may be and no matter how many millions of times it’s been played all over the world already and never mind that Paul Desmond actually wrote it and not Dave, but when I put “Take Five” on and turn the volume up just one extra notch, then every time, without exception, the audience goes wild. The build up of the intro is enough to get them fired up. First the drums, then the piano, then the bass and then Desmond runs down his well known line on his alto. Jazz aficionados simply can’t sit still every time it’s on. In D.J. terms: a ‘massive’ hit for the dance floors. When you say Dave Brubeck, you say “Take Five”, that’s what I’ve learned over the years. Still his output represents so much more than only that hit and I play his other cuts as well, but “Take Five” will keep Brubeck in our hearts and minds forever. 😉

  • Al,
    The highest valued LPs are the Fantasy colored vinyl, any color other than red or blue. I have seen them in green, orange, yellow & purple. Some of the red ones were done in opaque rather than translucent plastic & do command about a 10-15% premium. And, yes, they are plastic and the sound quality can, at times, be a bit less than optimum!


  • I read an interview with him several years ago (in JazzTimes, I believe) where he noted that he has the original painting used on the the cover of “Time Out” (I don’t have the LP in front of me to name the artist) hanging in his home. It’s quite a large piece of art and they had a picture of him standing in front of it. Pretty cool.

  • Great story, Don-Lucky. Thanks for posting.

  • I’m very sad to see Dave go as well and appreciate your story Don Lucky. I’ve seen him a few times over the years as well and have always been impressed. He was a fascinating and unique piano player who thankfully was appreciated in his time. I’m thinking that the reason Brubeck albums are less collectible is because he was so appreciated in his time that there were so many of his albums pressed, as opposed to someone like Hank Mobley who wasn’t appreciated til later. Dave was a well deserved Jazz Icon, and the world is a little less interesting without him.

  • Thanks Al & Mattyman.

    In terms of the value of Brubeck collectables, I am thinking the relatively low prices fetched for his catalogue over the years probably has something to do with the sheer volume of albums pressed originally by companies like Columbia. Similar to other +million selling classic’s of that ere like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, there is certainly no shortage of inventory. So it really comes down to getting a copy with a low matrix number in decent condition or perhaps a white label review copy. Terry’s comment about the colored vinyl certainly plays a part when it comes to the Fantasy dates, which have fetched upwards of $700 on Popsike !

    As collectors, value is a matter of personal opinion. Supply, demand and condition certainly play their part, but I tend to collect first pressings of the LP’s that I love first and foremost… There is something to be said for quality. Not necessarily because they are rare, although that is admittedly part of the attraction in some cases… I also feel that no matter how great the LP is, they will never replace the live experience. Truth be told, I will always treasure the live concert over a recording date, and a photo I have on the wall of Dave and I after his last Montreal concert more than all my autographed first pressings…

  • I did a phone interview with Morello 2 years ago where he contradicts the following Brubeck history on Take Five”
    In a 1995 interview with Paul Zollo, Brubeck said he asked Desmond to try writing a song in 5/4. Said Brubeck: “I told Paul to put a melody over (drummer) Joe Morello’s beat. So Paul put a couple melodies. But he didn’t have a tune. He just had two melodies. He said, ‘I can’t write a tune in 5/4,’ and he had given up. I said, ‘You’ve got two good melodies here, let’s work out a form.’ So I worked out an A-A-B-A form and Paul caught on immediately

    But Morello (on tape) told me Desmond had already written the diatonic bridge melody in 4/4, and he blew it all the time-it was a typical lyrical Desmond style melody.

    Then Morello-wishing to expand his role in the group, asked Paul to write a tune in 5/4. Paul wrote that bluesy A section, and when stuck for a bridge, Morello said “why don’t you just adapt that thing you always play.”

    He also told me when he joined, Paul was the star and the rhythm section were just time players.When Morello took his first drum solo and got a standing ovation, Desmond walked off said “fuck you” and it took three days for Brubeck to convince him to stay in the group.

    Of course the Brubeck sound was really the Desmond (Breitenfeld) sound, and I spoke with Desmond right before he died. I was at Jim Hall’s apartment, Paul called up and Jim—knowing he didn’t have long to go—put me on the phone. I told him how much I dug his playing, and though appreciative, he sounded weak.

    I recall seeing Paul Mazursky’s Next Stop Greenwich Village in ’76, and thinking during the club scene that no music of the era could’ve defined it as well as Blue Rondo did. The polyrhythm drama juxtaposed against the pathos of the blues puts a tear in my eye. It’s a perfect yin/yang of opposites that miraculously blend into something greater than each other. What a metaphor for humanity.

    My favorite LP has always been Angel Eyes-the Matt Dennis tribute. And with a nod to my favorite track on the album, I encourage the collectors here:

    Let’s take a trip to Dave Brubeck
    Let’s lift an ear to hear Paul
    Let’s dig some mellow… Wright and Morello
    Let’s get a way from it all.

  • Paul Desmond was a natural wit and ladies man. A pretty young girl once sent him a photo of her, saying she was a graphic designer who wanted to design his next LP. And after studying him, she concluded his perfect font style and size was optima 36 point type. Desmond wrote back:
    Roses are red
    Violets are blue,
    Optima shmoptima
    My type is you.

  • As luck would have it, I lived in Wilton, CT for 12 years – the same town as Dave Brubeck. He and his family were very visible in the community, always playing at churches and fundraisers. And always incorporating some local talent into the performances. He will certainly be missed.

  • I’m of a mind that a conversation about the monetary value of Brubeck lps-“Fantasy or Columbia?”-seems a little off-the-mark at the moment. I personally distinctly remember asking my mom-Queens,’64-to pick up two 45’s that I’d been hearing all the time on my tiny Emerson transitor. The store: Triboro Records,next door to the Jamaica bus terminal..remember? One was “I Want To Hold Your Hand”-“It’s by a group called The Beatles,mom”-the other was “Blue Rondo A La Turk” by some fellow I’d never heard of before,Dave Brubeck. I loved the music on “Blue Rondo”-it’s bombastic piano playing…great,big ocean-blue chunks of sound. In my 12-yr old mind’s eye,I imagined a wide-eyed classical pianist gone rogue,someone who was as comfortable in the jazz clubs I was a decade away from exploring as he was in the halls of the symphony orchestra itself. I guess,in hindsight,I wasn’t too far off the mark. The way that Brubeck and the quartet glided so easily from “rondo” to 4/4 swing hooked me from the start. I listened constantly,paying little heed to the “A” side,”Take Five”(not that there was anything wrong with that!)As for Brubeck’s piano,we all know that the Powell,Tyner,Wynton,Sonny Clark “choir” had/has little use for his playing. I would only submit that his versions of Disney tunes inspired some of the greatest work from both Bill Evans and Miles-try listening to “Alice In Wonderland” or “Someday My Prince Will Come” without referencing the Brubeck session-while his writing “In Your Own Sweet Way”-now a jazz standard- and “The Duke” became staples of the 50’s Davis songbook for good reason-Miles knew open-hearted lyricism when he heard it,and adapted the tunes for his Harmon mute with ease.
    In time,The Beatles yellow/black Capitol 45’s far outmunbered the red/black Brubeck Columbia’s-hard to compete with that guitar intro on “I Saw Her Standing There”,after all-but I’m glad my tastes became such that the music of Brubeck AND The Beatles continue to bring me joy. Later on,I’ll put on his “Broadway Romance” from Jazz Impressions of New York. It’s a beautiful song that never fails to move me. Tonight-especially tonight-will not be an exception to that rule.
    For some great writing on Brubeck’s contributions,rare lp covers,photos,interview links and the like,I’d recommend Marc Myers recent column:

  • You’re right Cee. It’s way off the mark at this moment which shoud begin with tender recollections like yours and end with a tear signifying we can never return… once we leave.

    Evaluating the market value of an LP after a one has deceased has all the soul of Nazis argueing whether they can make more deutchmarks by turning Jews into lampshades or soap. But as Arthur says at the end of Camelot “What we all are, Pelinore? —less than a drop in the great blue motion of the sunlit sea. But it seems that some of the drops sparkle, Pelly. Some of them do sparkle!

    That’s why I’m gonna bid on a Coltrane record ending in an hour. It’s a NY pressing of Mating Call that someone played the shit out of. But the constant crackle is the talentless critics mocking Trane when they didn’t understand.

    And the scratches are the tracks on Tadd Dameron’s arm before he entered Lexington.

    And the coffee cup stain on the back, is Cafe au lait—signifying John Simmon’s interracial marriage which produced a beautiful newscaster.

    Finally, the JAZZ stamp on that back cover is a symbol for Philly Joe who was Miles’ favorite, Bill Evans favorite and everyone’s favorite. Dameron was Philly Joe’s greatest musical influence, and this record date with that JAZZ stamp makes this LP hallowed ground. Mint, shmint.


  • Ceedee, we had the same experiences. We could have been neighbors. My experiences at Triboro Records in Jamaica are still very vivid. The album Time Out was the first of many Jazz records for me. It was also purchased at Triboro. They had knowledgeable people (mostly musicians) as clerks. It was a wonderful place. I remember, a bit later, one employee who took an interest in this very young neophyte, made a point of always playing something that he liked for me. My first “avant garde” record was Eric Dolphy Live @ The Five Spot Vol.2 which was bought after he played (and hummed along) with Richard Davis’ bass solo on Aggression (a yellow label which I still have). Or the time my father took me there for my birthday to buy the Monk Blue Notes. They had a mono copy of Volume 1 but not volume 2. Even then I was smart enough not to want the reprocessed stereo (because the guys at Triboro told me they were shitty sounding). The owner went upstairs and got his personal copy for me (a 63rd St. label which I still have). I no longer have the Time Out though. I played it so much it turned powdery white, but I still listen to Jazz @ Oberlin and Storyville and remember Brubeck talking to me as a young boy and asking me what my favorite tune was and playing it with a dedication in the 2nd part of his concert. Thanks Triboro and thanks Dave.

  • This must be a Queens convention.
    I was studying guitar in the mid 60s. My brother came from a friend’s house one day whose father had a record collection. He said he’d heard a record over there called “Organ Grinder’s Swing” by organist Jimmy Smith, and it had a nice guitar solo. I made a mental note, and shortly after that, fate stepped in.

    I was given a seventh grade assignment to do a footnoted paper on the Monroe Doctrine and was instructed to research it not at my local library but at the larger branch in Jamaica, Queens-across from Triboro Records. After getting the books I needed, on a whim I crossed the street and walked into that shop. There, standing before me, was a huge bin of 45 RPM records. I stuck my hand in and randomly pulled one out. When I looked at the title it read “Organ Grinder’s Swing” by The Jimmy Smith Trio featuring Kenny Burrell on guitar. Amazing.

  • my earliest music related memory was seeing the Dave Brubeck quintet at the World’s Fair in 1964.
    I remember during Morello’s drum solo the audience was so quiet and entralled you could hear a pin drop.
    I knew nothing about music at the time except that what I was hearing was something very great.

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