Dave Brubeck on his first paying gigs in rural California


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SS: At what point did you decide "I'm going to be a professional musician as a career"?

DB: It happened kind of gradually. On the cattle ranch, there was a man that came from Lodi, California to collect farmers and cattlemen's laundry. And, I was playing the piano one day when he came to collect the laundry. And, he said to me, "I have a dance band, and I'd like you to play in it."

And, I said, "Where is it?" and he said, "Down at the Mokelumne River there's an outdoor dance floor." And believe me, it was outdoors. The floor was all buckled from the rain, and the great lights were just hung from the wiring, and just regular light bulbs hanging down on the dance floor. And, it would be crowded with people having a great time. So, that was my first job. I was 14. And then, I worked in other jazz groups in Amador County, places like Mokelumne Hill, Angel's Camp, for the Frog Jumping Contest -- I played there when I was a kid.

SS: In Calaveras County.

DB: Yeah, and my sons played there a few years back. And, Chris has just written that piece that the Stockton Opera did --

SS: On Mark Twain, right, yeah.

DB: -- on Mark Twain about part of the Frog Jumping Contest. So, it all kind of relates. And then, there were remote places that if you look on the map for Sheep Camp and West Point, way up, not the Low Sierras. You're getting higher up. I played those dances, Sutter Creek and Jackson, Amador City.

SS: And, these were basically during your teen years then, right, you were playing these dances?

DB: Yeah. Fiddletown, that's now Plymouth, I played there. Placerville...

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