Remembrances
5:47 am
Sat December 8, 2012

A Special Visit From Jazz Great Dave Brubeck

Originally published on Sat December 8, 2012 3:25 pm

Dave Brubeck died this week, a day short of his 92nd birthday. The pianist and composer was jazz for millions around the world, building blocks of chords that mixed classical influences with contemporary harmonies and opposing rhythms.

Dave Brubeck and saxophonist Paul Desmond created fresh sounds in the 1950s, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Their 1959 collaboration, Take Five, may be the best-known jazz composition of all time.

NPR Special Correspondent Susan Stamberg grew up with the sounds of Dave Brubeck, and has a Brubeck memory that's dear to her.

It was February 1981, and Stamberg was hosting All Things Considered. She'd heard the great musician would be in town. "I wanted to hear him play," she tells Weekend Edition Saturday's Scott Simon, "but this was before National Public Radio had a piano." So she asked Brubeck if he'd come to her house.

"And by gum, he agreed!" she says. There, at the Stamberg family upright piano, Dave Brubeck played for her microphone. "I have to tell you, I didn't dust those keys for months!"

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Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Dave Brubeck died this week - a day short of his 92nd birthday. The pianist and composer was jazz for millions around the world, building blocks of chords that mixed classical influences with contemporary harmonies and opposing rhythms. Dave Brubeck and Paul Desmond created fresh sounds in the 1950s with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. NPR special correspondent Susan Stamberg grew up listening to Dave Brubeck, and she has a Brubeck memory that's dear to her. Susan, thanks for joining us.

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: My pleasure.

SIMON: So, how did you first get to know his music?

STAMBERG: I had a jazz-playing boyfriend in high school. And he brought albums. And, oh, I listened and listened, so. And it was the...

SIMON: That made him really cool, too, right?

STAMBERG: Super cool, yeah. The album was "Jazz Goes to College." That was the first one that really caught my ear. And on it he did a tune called "Balcony Rock." And, Scott, there was a time at which I could sing you every single note of Brubeck's nine-minute piano solo on that tune, "Balcony Rock." And I would, you know, I'm a New Yorker - I know you're surprised; you thought I was a Southern belle - I would stand waiting for the subway trains and sing this solo, to myself mercifully, 'cause I have no voice. But there it was.

SIMON: So, fast forward a couple of decades - as I do the math - how did you meet?

STAMBERG: Well, it was now February 1981. I was hosting ALL THINGS CONSIDERED and I saw somewhere that he was coming to town. I thought, oh, golly, this might be my chance. I could meet him. Got in touch, requested an interview. We made an appointment. And I drove to his hotel. I wanted to pick him up for the interview. I wanted to hear him play, but this was before National Public Radio had a piano. So, I did the only thing I could think to do. I asked if he would come to my house, because I had a piano. I had a Knight - I mean, this is not a piano worthy of Mr. Brubeck - a Knight upright. Perfectly nice sound but, you know, it was no Bosendorfer. And, by God, he agreed.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED INTERVIEW)

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAMBERG: I'm Susan Stamberg and I'm realizing a fantasy: Dave Brubeck is sitting at my piano and playing my favorite Brubeck tune, "The Duke."

I just, I was so thrilled. You have to understand that an Elvis fan, if he saw that The King had risen from the dead, could not have been as excited as I was. It was this chance to meet Dave Brubeck, and then coming home with me to play the piano. But, you know, he did. And I stood by my upright piano. And I had no engineer, nothing. I had this microphone at the end of a heavy cassette recorder. I didn't even know enough to open the top of the piano to get better sound. I think I must have held the mike but the keys of the piano and we recorded him playing.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

STAMBERG: Dave Brubeck at the Stamberg family upright piano,1981. Scott, I have to tell you, I did not dust those keys for months. Really, really.

(LAUGHTER)

SIMON: Sure.

STAMBERG: And so, you know, when he died this week, I remembered his tremendous generosity and his kindness and that wonderful music.

SIMON: NPR's Susan Stamberg. Thanks so much. So wonderful to be with you to get this Dave Brubeck memory from you.

STAMBERG: Thank you so much for letting me tell it.

SIMON: And let's go out with an alternative version - the original professional recording of Dave Brubeck "The Duke." This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.