If difference of opinion is what makes horse racing, then it is the generation gap that built the music business. But winging in the face of all that is Dave Brubeck, 53, the formative jazz figure of the 1950s, who is making a new splash with, of all sidemen, his own kids, and in, of all places, the college circuit.
Promoted as “Two Generations of Brubeck,” the new tour is headlined by the All Brubeck Quartet—featuring Poppa B. at his nonamplified keyboard and sons Darius, 26, on electric piano; Chris, 22, on fender bass and bass trombone; and Danny, 18, on drums. What keeps it all from bombing out as moldy fig on campus is the eclectic Brubeck blend of classical influences (Darius was named after Dave’s distinguished mentor, composer Milhaud), rock (Chris formerly led the New Heavenly Blue group) and even a modish mix of the Middle East.
After wrapping up a four-country European detour this week, the Brubecks will complete their 35-college itinerary by bus. Dave’s earlier campus breakthroughs in the 1950s starred jazz master Paul Desmond (who wrote the group hit “Take Five”). One bit of history was Dave’s insistence on keeping an integrated quartet when playing the South. Rather than replace his black bass player, Gene Wright, Brubeck canceled 23 out of 25 concerts on one tour.
Generally, though, the music is the only message from Brubeck. Of old-school, old-Californian (and, he suspects, Indian) stock, Dave says, “I try to avoid acting like a parent like the plague.” On tour, when the boys go out after a concert, Dad generally retires to his room to write music. The kids agree that playing together is the best thing that’s happened to the family in years. Before, the sons had their own performing schedules and saw little of the sprawling, Japanese-style family spread in Wilton, Conn. “Now we spend 60 to 80 percent of our time together,” figures Chris.
At home the Brubecks are an octet including wife Iola, daughter Cathy, 19, and sons Michael, a 25-year-old horse trainer, and Matthew, 12. lola has over the years been a lyricist for her husband’s serious music like “Light in the Wilderness,” an unofficial agent for the various quartets, and chauffeur, driving her musicians to 20 lessons a week.
“There was a time,” Brubeck remembers, “when I thought my wife and I were going to break with the kids, but we decided to bend instead. When you see your daughter at school and see guys living in the same dormitory, that was hard. But then you realize your standards are meaningless in that whole situation.” Another series of conflicts occurred when Chris and Danny wanted to drop out of school to perform full-time, and the elder Brubecks found themselves reexamining their own obsession with education. “I realized,” says Brubeck, “that it was because of the struggle my parents had—my father only went to the fifth grade. It was a shock to me when Darius told me he only went to college because I wanted him to.”
Brubeck’s effort to grow with his sons has raised his children’s consciousness as well. “Dad,” says Chris approvingly, “is constantly expanding. We have been influenced by him, and he has been influenced by us. I think he has done a great job adjusting.”