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Sedona Cultural Park
welcomes a legend: Dave Brubeck

by Sarah Bowes

The chance to spend an evening with a living legend of jazz comes August 24 when pianist and composer Dave Brubeck performs under the night sky at Sedona Cultural Park. One of the few household names in jazz, Brubeck led the famous Dave Brubeck Quartet in the 1950s and 60s, which turned the jazz world on its ear with sophisticated, improvisational, innovative, but hugely popular compositions like “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”

To some, jazz is a mystifying, elite and complicated art. Or, as a non-jazzy friend once put it, “I never know when to clap - and jazz people like it that way.” It’s got its own highly critical terminology and hosts countless sub-cultures of jazz musicians, academics and appreciators, which can at a glace seem impenetrable and uninviting to the uninitiated. Maybe that’s why some critics got so prickly in the late 50’s when the Dave Brubeck Quartet became (gasp!) popular. Brubeck reminded America that it’s just music after all, and if it made you groove along and feel something, then it was a success.

Brubeck’s quartet came together in the mid- 50s, and in a wise strategy that plugged them into the arbiters of super-cool, began making headway with new jazz audiences by performing at colleges. The records Jazz at Oberlin (1953) and Jazz Goes to College (1954) are still among the quartet’s best sellers. In 1954, Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time magazine, which heralded his work as the dawn of a new jazz age, and called the Quartet’s music “some of the strangest and loveliest music ever played since jazz was born.”

It was in 1959 that the Quartet released the landmark record Time Out, containing the mega-hit tracks “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and “Take Five,” which became the first jazz instrumental piece to sell over a million copies. NPR recently recognized it in their “100 most important American musical works of the 20th century” series. Unusual time signatures, inspired by the music of Africa and the Middle East, and their experimentation with polytonality (blending two keys at once) weren’t initially popular with some critics, but audiences adored the music. The populist success of the jazz band was astounding. Between the years of 1959 and 1965, the Quartet won Down Beat magazine’s reader’s poll five times; it garnered the top spot in the Billboard reader’s poll in ‘65 and ‘66; for 12 consecutive years, ‘57 through ‘68, Brubeck and company took the top spot in the Playboy reader’s poll.

Now in his early 80s, Brubeck continues to tour, compose, record and write without any signs of slowing down. Since the Quartet disbanded in 1967, Brubeck has focused more on composition, often outside the traditional realms of jazz. He has created ballets, scores, oratorios, cantatas, symphonic pieces, classical compositions, liturgical compositions (including a contemporary mass), and Native American-inspired compositions. He recently completed a recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, and his appearance at Sedona Cultural Park is part of a schedule of selective events that are booked well into 2003.

For tickets to An Evening With Dave Brubeck on August 24, call 928-203-4TIX, 1-800-594-TIXX or go online sedonacutluralpark.org.

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