Q&A with Dan Brubeck: Exploring Dad’s Songbook

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Dan Brubeck (pictured) says a new recording by the Brubeck Brothers Quartet focuses on cultural exchange and world music influences. (Photo: Stephane Colbert)

With the passing of iconic jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck in 2012, co-leaders of the Brubeck Brothers Quartet—drummer Dan Brubeck and brother bassist/trombonist Chris Brubeck—have been sharing a legacy of American jazz royalty. A new album by the quartet, scheduled for forthcoming release, celebrates their father’s most beloved music, and features bandmates Chuck Lamb (piano) and Mike DeMicco (guitar). Formed in 1998, the quartet has topped jazz radio charts for all four past album releases, and their last recording, LifeTimes (Blue Forest) was in the top seven most played jazz albums of 2012.

A 2016 JUNO Award Nominee, Canadian resident Dan Brubeck was producer/drummer for the 1993 Grammy-nominated Trio Brubeck album. He was also a performer at the 1996 Grammy Awards with an all-star line-up featuring bassist Christian McBride, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, saxophonist Joshua Redman and Dave Brubeck. And Dan’s brother Chris received a Grammy nomination in 2013 for the album Ansel Adams: America, his final collaboration with his father. 

In 2009, to surprise their father on his 89th birthday, Dan performed with his musician brothers Chris, Matthew and Darius when Dave Brubeck received the Kennedy Center Honors Award. Dan has toured internationally since his teens as the leader of his own groups and was a featured soloist with the world’s most accomplished orchestras. DownBeat caught up with Dan to learn about the recording of the upcoming new Brubeck Brothers Quartet album.

You are just finishing up a new BBQ album, how did you and Chris set up the vibe for getting into the creative space for recording?

We got together and rehearsed for three days at my Dad’s house in Connecticut. We sifted through material and found the music that we felt would work best for us and then started working on arrangements. Most of the first day in the studio was spent setting up, getting sounds and then laying down a couple of takes. Then we recorded six songs per day for two more days.

Many people mentioned to us that next year will be the 60th anniversary of the State Department Jazz Ambassador tours my father did in 1958. This three-month tour was about demonstrating American freedom of expression through jazz music. We wanted to slant the new recording’s focus towards that tour since it had a strong cultural exchange and world impact. 

We were inspired by Dave’s 1958 tour to focus the new recording on cultural exchange and world music influences and how those influences resonate back home in America—more important today than ever before. So we were looking at material for our new album that would reflect that tour, such as “Blue Rondo À La Turk,” that came from Turkish rhythms my Dad heard from a street drummer playing a beat in 9/8 time.

On this new album, we are playing instrumentals with some original compositions and some tunes by Dave. It’s a combination of contributions from everyone. Typically, we’ll play something and someone will chime in ... “Wait, what was that? Play that back, that’s great! Let’s incorporate that.”

What makes each band member integral to the recording?

Pianist Chuck Lamb is a super creative improviser and you never know where he is going to go. Mike DeMicco is an extremely talented guitar player who can play in any direction. Chris is one of the rare electric bass players who sounds like an acoustic bass player. He plays with those same sensibilities. He is also a soulful trombonist. We grew up listening to all sorts of jazz, as well as Jimi Hendrix, funk groups and all of that.  All of us have those influences and we throw it all into what we do.

How did you approach getting a good take?

Every take can be very different, where you are trying various things. We are constantly experimenting with arrangements; we then solidify our approach and try to capture these fresh ideas in the studio. We play live and trust our amazing producer and engineer, Scott Petito. We have been working with Scott for years and we value his opinions.

Were there special tips that you learned from your father?

My Dad studied with French composer Darius Milhaud. Milhaud told my Dad that you can inspire yourself by drawing from other cultures. Dave really kept his ears wide open on that State Department tour. It is part of what led him to explore odd time signatures. This innovation became second nature to him, and later to us.

Will you tour behind this album?

We are lining up gigs for 2018.

Do you have an album name yet? Plans for additional recordings?

An album name is still in the works.  Soon we will be back in the studio choosing the best takes. It’s going to be at least six months before the album comes out. For years we just did our own tunes and did not play Dave’s. Now that he is gone there is a sense of really wanting to keep the essence of his music alive.

What are your closing thoughts on your new album?

I’m optimistic about the record and the future of the band itself. I feel like good things will come from this album. My feeling is that this will be a good sequel to LifeTimes. We are looking forward to playing this material live and are hoping that everyone will come out and hear us perform the tunes from the new recording. DB


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