Saturday, October 29, 2016
In the mid-Fifties his (reluctant) military career took us to Turkey, where I proceeded to contract--or so the family legend goes--one of the world's first recorded cases of Asian flu. Whatever it was, my fever kept going up and my body kept drying out, so I was sent to the local military hospital to recuperate. While I was recovering, then, I kept hearing this strange music, rhythmically percussive and sweetly keening, emanating from elsewhere on the floor; and I soon went in search of the source.
What I found was a young airman, quarantined, with his Fifties-style portable record player and a few records by a group called the Dave Brubeck Quartet which he was playing repeatedly. The brief Modern Jazz primer he gave didn't make much of an impression on the 13-year-old rock 'n' roller I was then--I don't even remember for sure which albums he owned--but the exciting sound of Brubeck's live recordings must have stayed with me because when I did begin a rest-of-my-life fascination with Jazz a few years later, the quartet was at the center of my random, uneducated buying.
Over the decades I played and played and replayed the Storyville LPs, wearing out two or three copies of each. I reveled in the joyful abandon of "Crazy Chris" and the tender beauty (Dave practically alone for 13 minutes) of "You Go to My Head" and "Summer Song/Over the Rainbow"; those were the highlights on Fantasy, while the Columbia LP was just well-nigh perfect, first note to last--"On the Alamo," "Don't Worry About Me," "Gone with the Wind," "Back Bay Blues," "Here Lies Love," and "When You're Smiling"--which I certainly was.
There's some minor repertory overlap with other Brubeck albums (and announcer Hentoff works too hard at being both erudite and amusing), but any Brubeck fan can easily welcome the new old versions of "Stardust," "Undecided," and "All the Things You Are" plus uncommon bongo bashments ("Body and Soul"), frenzied fingerings ("Frenesi"), and rippling reminders of then-recent success ("I'll Remember April" and "I Didn't Know What Time It Was")--a total of more than 40
No matter, I have them all now. It's been 60 years since the Asian flu brought me to Brubeck, Desmond and, eventually, Boston's Storyville. With this three CD set now as witness, I believe I'm as close as I'll ever be, this side of heaven, to that first magical encounter with something called "Modern Jazz," and with the Brubeck Quartet's exciting version of it.