THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET: JAZZ AT OBERLIN
© James A. Harrod, COPYRIGHT PROTECTED; ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Lloyd Davis and Ron Crotty were featured on the cover of the February 1954 issue of Metronome magazine. The Dave Brubeck Quartet had been selected as the Small Band Winner in the All Star Poll. The quartet had also garnered first place positions recently in reader’s and critic’s polls at Down Beat magazine.
The quartet’s rise in popularity can be attributed in large part to the efforts of Iola Brubeck who had embarked on a campaign to book the quartet at colleges and universities around the country by offering student groups a modest booking fee and a share of ticket sales from the concert. The hundreds of letters that she sent out resulted in a steady stream of campus concerts for the quartet as they toured the nation, filling in gigs between club dates in major cities. One of those concerts occurred at Oberlin College in Ohio on March 2, 1953. The campus radio station wanted to record the concert so that it could be aired later and Dave Brubeck agreed in exchange for possession of the tapes for possible commercial release by Fantasy Records.
Selections from the concert were issued on a ten inch LP, Fantasy 3-8, and later on extended play 45 RPM releases, EP 4007 and EP 4013. The Oberlin Conservatory was a bastion of classical music instruction with strict adherence to the three “B’s” - Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. Jazz was not part of the curriculum.
This was hinted at in the liner notes for Fantasy 3-11, JAZZ AT OBERLIN, THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET.
Oberlin College in northern Ohio has always been the scene for a great deal of musical activity, mainly because of its highly regarded Conservatory of Music. Through the years the Conservatory has considered it its duty to maintain a policy of adhering rather closely to the mainstream of established classical literature in its instruction and its students’ performances, never having seen fit to include jazz in its curriculum. Generally, jazz found little enthusiastic support on the Oberlin campus.
Toward the beginning of 1953 the few jazz enthusiasts at Oberlin, having grown extremely tired of the situation, decided to do something, to present, at Oberlin, jazz on an organized concert level. On March 2,1953, in Oberlin's Finney Chapel they presented in concert the Dave Brubeck Quartet. In spite of early doubt, apprehension, and lack of encouragement, the concert was a huge success, the Quartet holding completely under its control for almost two hours a large and varied audience, many of which were Conservatory students almost entirely uneducated in jazz. When the group finally left the stage, the starving crowd, whose appetite had been only partially satisfied, were crying for more.
The success of the concert had an immediate effect. Students organized the Oberlin College Jazz Club, with plans for three concerts during the following year, including a return performance by the Quartet. Jazz had found itself firmly and comfortably at home in surroundings, where, in the past, it had been met only with apathy and misunderstanding.
These sides from the Oberlin concert represent the Quartet in their most free, uninhibited, yet relaxed manner. They swing constantly, but, as is innate in Brubeck's music, they never cease to emphasize structure— structure growing out of free improvisation.
© Fantasy Records, The Concord Music Group
Dave and Iola Brubeck were interviewed for the Oral History Project at the University of the Pacific Library in 2007. Their recollections validate the cool reception by the school regarding a “jazz” concert.
Brubeck Oral History Project
Dave and Iola Brubeck were interviewed for this oral history project on January 30 and 31, 2007. During the interviews, the Brubecks discussed a broad range of topics from throughout their lives. Some of the stories cover well-known episodes in their career, others are related here for the first time. The interviews were filmed at Ellington's Jazz Bar and Restaurant on Sanibel Island, Florida. The interviewers were Shan Sutton, Head of Special Collections at the University of the Pacific Library, and Keith Hatschek, Director of the Music Management Program in the University of the Pacific Conservatory of Music.
The Brubeck oral history project is a collaborative effort supported by the University of the Pacific Library, Brubeck Institute, and the Experience Music Project of Seattle. The excerpts presented here were selected from over five hours of interview footage. Access to the entire interviews and their transcripts is available at the University of the Pacific Library's Special Collections department, and the Experience Music Project.
Dave and Iola Brubeck on the legendary concert at Oberlin College in 1953
SS (Interviewer) = Shan Sutton
DB = Dave Brubeck
IB = Iola Brubeck
SS: Getting back to the early and mid '50s, I want to talk a little bit about a couple of albums, Jazz at Oberlin recorded 1953 at Oberlin College in Ohio really proved to be a landmark album that is still widely considered one of the more vital live jazz recordings in history. What made that performance so special? What was going on that night that was captured and still remains 55 years later so compelling? What was happening at Oberlin that night ?
DB: You're right. The quartet was playing at its peak. I think it's the best live performance, or maybe performance, I've ever heard of Paul Desmond. He was just perfection on fire that night .
And, I was probably a little disappointed in that they wouldn't give me a good piano, and I had an old grand, but it was in terrible shape. And, I remember that so much thinking that they said, you know, "The jazz musician can't play the good piano."
SS: They gave you the second rate piano .
Russell Gloyd: Tell them what Dean said to you before you went on, that you weren't welcome here, and be prepared for a very negative reaction from the students .
SS: So, the Dean of the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin had to talk to you ahead of time to kind of prepare you for what might transpire ?
DB: Yeah, that we weren't welcome. And, you know, it's hard to believe because now almost every good conservatory has a great jazz department. But, in those days, they were still thinking that jazz was terrible music, and not to be associated with the conservatories .
One time I was told, "You're playing at this school. It's a Catholic school to train nuns and organists. And, I don't think you're going to have a good audience at all." So, we went out and started to play, and I remember the nun came out on stage to announce us, and was trying to soften up the situation .
After the first tune, that audience went crazy for us. And, it was because they were all studying Bach and counterpoint. So, we really laid on some Bach and counterpoint (laughter), the influence of Bach .
IB: And Paul's saying they were out there shaking their habits. (laughter)
DB: Yeah, that's what Paul said (laughter). They're out there shaking their habits .
SS: Was it a similar dynamic with the audience at Oberlin then, where --
DB: Oh, you have to listen to the recording. You hear that audience at Oberlin .
SS: So, despite the fact that you were prepped by the dean saying that you were going to face at least skeptical and perhaps hostile audience, do you think your classical references and influences that won them over? Was it just the sheer power of your improvisations that night? What was the catalyst behind that being such a dynamic performance ?
DB: Well, it's hard to know how things will just turn in the right direction for you. But, that night shouldn't have been a good night. But, my drummer had a fever of 102, and was not feeling well at all. But, he came alive right from the beginning, and started really playing. He was quite ill. I was worried about him before going on, you know, "Would he be able to play?" He played great .
IB: There was another factor in it, too, I think in that it was the students' Jazz Club who sponsored this concert. It didn't come from Oberlin College or from the conservatory. So, I think there was probably in the audience from the students, a little bit of this, "Boy, this has to work" you know, or else our idea of having a series of jazz artists come in is just going to go down the drain. And so, I'm sure there were some enthusiastic people in the audience spurring everybody on. But, there were a lot of faculty in the audience too from what I understand. And so, everyone sort of got swept up into it.
© University of the Pacific Library, Brubeck Institute
Doug Ramsey referenced the Oberlin concert recording in his Rifftides post to honor the 36th anniversary of Paul Desmond’s passing.
The YouTube contributor noted in Doug Ramsey’s post, kocn53, created another YouTube presentation devoted to the Oberlin Concert on April 30, 2011 amending the concert version of THESE FOOLISH THINGS.
Doug Ramsey also wrote about the events surrounding the Oberlin Concert in his biography of Paul Desmond, Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, Parkside Publications, Seattle, 2005.
“A more significant development in the life of the Dave Brubeck Quartet—and the recorded legacy of Paul Desmond—came in 1953. In her role as manager, booker and publicist in the lean days before Brubeck signed with Joe Glaser's Associated Booking Corporation, Iola Brubeck acted on an idea that led not only to more work for the Quartet, but also to a major change in the relationship of jazz to its audience. As far back as the 1920s, jazz musicians played on college campuses, but almost always for restricted fraternity and sorority dances. The Brubecks' pioneering opened the college market as a source of work for jazz artists and helped open society's ears to wide acceptance of jazz as a mature cultural element.
Mrs. Brubeck wrote more than one hundred colleges and universities, enclosing reviews of the Quartet's recordings and live appearances. She suggested that The Dave Brubeck Quartet would be ideal for campus concerts and offered a deal that appealed to student associations—a low fee for the band and a split of profits. A few bookings developed. Early on, the band often played in lecture rooms or cafeterias doubling as concert halls, with students wandering in and out during the performances. By the time Joe Glaser 's office took over the Quartets management, the system was working. The young agent Larry Bennett, lola said, "took the idea and ran with it"
For their March, 1953, appearance at Oberlin College in Ohio, the Quartet found itself in the acoustically blessed chapel of an institution known for the quality of its music department. The audience knew what it was hearing and responded with enthusiastic appreciation. In a canny business move, exchanging broadcast rights for ownership of the master recording, Brubeck allowed the Oberlin campus radio station to tape and later air the concert. When Fantasy issued the performance as a long-playing record, a phenomenon was established: Jazz kept on going to college and Brubeck created an audience that has been loyal to him for decades.
From his first chorus of improvisation on "These Foolish Things" in Jazz at Oberlin, Desmond sets the bar high for himself and the group. His flow of ideas through faultlessly executed double-time passages is fueled by rhythm that jets from somewhere inside him to contrast with the stately accompaniment of the rhythm section. His energy sets up Brubeck to glide into a solo of extraordinary melodic and rhythmic invention. In his 32 bars, Brubeck covers a dynamic range so broad that it brings to mind Joe Dodge's observation, "Dave's emotion; that's what I loved about his playing. He could go from double-piano to so loud he almost didn't have enough fingers."
Ted Gioia has written of Desmond's playing at Oberlin, "He spits out rapid-fire lines like a tried-and-true bebopper, to the astonishment of all (not least the audience, which responds with rapturous applause). Rapid-fire, yes, but Desmond is no bopper here and not like one. Nor is he playing strictly in any other identifiable jazz idiom. At twenty-nine, he has reached what he was agonizing over four years earlier in his memos to himself and that long, painful letter to Duane, "beauty, simplicity, originality, discrimination, and sincerity." He has come through his apprenticeship to reach Whitney Balliett’s ideal; he has borrowed from his masters the bones on which to hang his own vision. He is the furthest thing from a mimic "The Way You Look Tonight" is his masterpiece of the album, one of the great accomplishments of Desmond's career. The brilliance with which he creates the melodic content of his solo is breathtaking! He weaves a phrase from Stravinsky's "Petrouchka" through the fabric of the improvisation, but, like the quotes from a variety of songs that comprise other threads, it is just one element in a construction of musical thought so unified that the whole hangs entire before the listener like a picture in a gallery.
Component parts aside, what drives this performance and invests it with much of its character is rhythm. Desmond's internal time sense to cranked up so high that by the end of his second chorus, he is swinging the band even harder than it was already swinging. Together, they belie the claim of Miles Davis and others who enjoyed sniping at the Brubeck group with allegations that it didn't swing. Following Brubeck's solo, he and Desmond have an intense round of counterpoint before ending with the tight unison line of the arrangement
In the fast "How High the Moon" that ends the concert, Desmond laces his solo with phrases echoed in octave drops, so that he sounds like two halves of a duet. It was a device that he used extensively, often to humorous effect in the early Quartet but less frequently as the years went by. Fifty years later, Brubeck still marveled at his partner's abilities, and his idiosyncracies.”
© Doug Ramsey, 2005
The Oberlin Concert was also the subject of Thomas Cunnliffe’s Jazz History Online - Sidetracks wherein he gives a detailed analysis of the editing of "The Way You Look Tonight".
In addition to the 10” LP and EP releases mentioned earlier the Oberlin Concert was released on reel-to-reel tape as Fantasy FT-3 and one selection was included on a reel-to-reel sampler, TS-1000.
When Fantasy adopted the 12” LP format in the mid 1950s the Oberlin Concert was reissued as Fantasy 3-245 and another EP was issued, EP 4062. Both releases added another tune from the concert, "How High the Moon." As noted in Thomas Cunnliffe’s post, the version of "The Way You Look Tonight" was edited for the EP release on EP 4007 and that edited version was used for the 12” LP release.
The content of the dual track release of Jazz At Oberlin, Fantasy FT-3, is not in the author’s collection and cannot be examined for variations compared to the 10” vinyl LP release. The author does own other Fantasy dual track tapes and these mirror their 10” LP counterparts exactly.
The version of "These Foolish Things" on TS-1000 times at 6’35” with approximately four seconds of applause at the end as Desmond finishes his solo.
The visual surfaces of Fantasy 3-11 sides reveal continuous single tracks that would indicate that this was the original concert sequence with "These Foolish Things" followed immediately by "The Way You Look Tonight" and "Perdido" followed immediately by "Stardust". The YouTube version of "These Foolish Things" cited above with the addition inserted by kocn53 raises the possibility that this track was edited by Fantasy in order to allow its inclusion on the 10” LP. Here is kocn53’s copy regarding his amendment:
“The intro & first bar or so of "These Foolish Things" are missing from the Brubeck Jazz at Oberlin recording made in 1953. Here is a composite where the missing section is filled in from this tune as recorded from a 1951 radio broadcast from Birdland in NYC. My apologies to any purists who may object.”
There is also a possibility that the audience applause was edited as the brief duration of applause does not indicate the wild reception described above. As the applause tapers off the quartet launches immediately into "The Way You Look Tonight" that times at 8’47” with only a hint of applause at the end.
"Perdido" includes two or three seconds of applause at the beginning and a generous eight or nine seconds of applause at the end of this track that times at 7’58”. "Stardust" begins immediately and ends at 6’21” with no applause at the end.
"These Foolish Things" was edited slightly for the EP release with a few seconds of the applause deleted at the end. Timing on the EP release of "The Way You Look Tonight" is approximately 7’44” reflecting the major edit of Paul Desmond’s solo, but this version also has two or three seconds of applause at the end whereas the 10” LP version ends with only a hint of applause.
The version of "Perdido" on EP 4013 times at 7’50” with the major difference being the elimination of applause that is trimmed from the longer 7’58” on the 10” LP. The 10” LP and EP versions of "Stardust" are identical, each timing at 6’21”.
The 12” LP reissue of Jazz At Oberlin dispensed with the continuous track presentation that had been used for the 10” LP release and each of the five tracks were separated on the vinyl surface.
The timing on "These Foolish Things" falls midway between the timing allowed on the 3-11 10” LP release, the longest, and the EP 4007 release at 6’34”. "Perdido" is edited for the 12” LP release with the opening applause deleted reducing the total timing to 7’48”. This version of "Stardust" times at 6’32” with ten seconds of applause at the end.
The 12” LP format could easily accommodate timings of up to twenty minutes per side which makes the inclusion of the edited version of "The Way You Look Tonight" all the more egregious as there was ample space to include the unedited version on side two of the 12” LP where "How High the Moon" was added as an addition track on Fantasy 3-245. The timing is identical to the edited version on EP 4007.
Fantasy issued an EP version of "How High the Moon," the additional Oberlin concert tune that was added to the 12” LP release on Fantasy 3-245. The track that runs 9’04” on the LP was split at 4’01” into the tune where audience applause erupts after Paul Desmond completes his solo with Brubeck’s piano fading at the end of side one of the EP and coming up from the fade on side two to complete the tune.
The CD reissue of Jazz At Oberlin, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Fantasy OJCCD-046-2 (F-3245), mirrors the 12” LP release with all of the timings essentially the same. The normal procedure at the beginning of the CD era was to remaster the file copy of 12” LP releases and that appears to be what occurred here. If the mastering engineer at Fantasy edited the master tape from the radio station at Oberlin when the original 10” LP and EP releases were prepared that edited section of recording tape most likely wound up in the dustbin. This was the case at many independent record companies where budgets were slim and the cost of making a duplicate from the tape master for editing purposes was not a standard practice.
The photos by Bernie Cleff used for the covers of the first two EP releases are most likely not from the Oberlin concert. The audience appears to be on the same level as Dave Brubeck at the piano, definitely not on an elevated stage as seen below in an interior photo of the Finney Chapel at Oberlin.