It was a rare gathering. Paul Winter, Branford Marsalis, Bill Charlap, Roy Hargrove, Tony Bennett and lots more jazz greats, all joining in a celebration of the life and music of Dave Brubeck. The large Cathedral of St. John the Divine was overflowing for the program last Saturday.
Thirteen Brubeck compositions were played, by various stellar ensembles.
Dr. John Salmon, UNCG professor of music, was asked to play a solo, Brubeck’s “Doin’ the Charleston.” The other solo on the program was played by Chick Corea.
“My relationship with (Dave Brubeck) started out at age 5 – as a fan,” Salmon recalled when he arrived back in town. His family had the album “Time Out,” one of the most popular jazz albums ever.
In 1992, he wrote an article on Dave Brubeck. Brubeck’s brother, Howard, soon died. Howard had been his editor.
“I started editing his music – and I recorded it.” And they became friends.
Salmon has edited about eight volumes of scores, and he has released three CDs of Brubeck’s classical compositions.
The fourth is being readied for release.
“My relationship with Dave has influenced me in lots of personal and musical ways,” he explains. Brubeck was self-effacing, generous, open-minded. “It was his humanity that impressed us all.”
He gives an example. Brubeck was one of the first celebrities in the jazz industry to speak up for civil rights and against segregation. He cancelled a tour in the South when he saw new band member Eugene Wright, an African-American bass player, was not going to be treated equally. Wright, now in his 90s, played at Saturday’s tribute.
Another was the way he engaged with his audiences, as he toured the world. He would talk to them.
Salmon tries to do the same. “I always want to reach out to people.” Salmon has toured in China four times, and soon leaves for his fifth, to China and Mongolia. He plays jazz and blues on piano, and always learns a different traditional Chinese composition. The audience will sing along.
“He was an embracer and a bridge to different cultures,” Salmon says. “It’s something I’ve taken to heart.”
Salmon recalls the last time they talked in person, March of 2012. He drove to Brubeck’s home outside of New York City, planning to stay a short while. “Dave wanted me to play some of his pieces.” Salmon did.
“Dave, I’ve got to go,” he said. Brubeck wanted him to play more. So he did. Brubeck’s wife of 70 years, Iola, was there as well. Again, Salmon told his friend he had to go. But Brubeck wanted him to play another. And another. “I spent two and a half hours playing.”
Brubeck died Dec. 5. Salmon was invited to perform at the tribute. “I was honored to be asked.”
A chance to play one more for Dave Brubeck.
Story by Mike Harris