Dave and Iola Brubeck on Dave's change in career plans at the College of the Pacific


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SS: And you must have still been a little bit uncertain about whether you would be a professional musician when you entered the College of the Pacific, which is now University of the Pacific, because you started as a pre-veterinarian major, right, and shifted to a music major during your stint at College of the Pacific?

DB: Yeah. I didn't want to go to college, and I wanted to stay on a ranch that my dad owned, which was his, not the big ranch. It was only 1,200 acres. But I loved being out there alone. And, that's when I wanted to go from high school to living on that ranch in a cabin: no running water, no indoor plumbing of any kind. You got your water out of the spring. You washed your frying pan in the sand in the stream because it's very good to take off all the grease.

SS: Oh yeah, abrasive, yeah.

DB: And, I loved all that life. And, that's what I wanted to do. My mother said, "You have to go to college like your brothers." So, my dad said, "If he's going to college, he's got to study to be a veterinarian." That's how I went to college.

SS: So, that was the deal, huh?

DB: That was the deal.

SS: OK, and so eventually the story goes, one of your professors, "Dave, your interest is over in the conservatory of music. You should probably think about majoring in music," which you eventually did, right?

DB: He put it a little tougher than that.

SS: Oh OK, how did he put it?

DB: His name was Dr. Arnold, wonderful zoology. He said, "Brubeck, your mind is not here with these frogs and formaldehyde. You're always listening to what's coming from the conservatory across the line. Do me a favor. Go over there next year." (laughter) He's still teacher emeritus at --

IB: I think he may have now passed away. He was in Santa Rosa I think.

DB: Yeah he moved from Pacific.

SS: And so, a zoology professor really was quite a catalyst in your, at least college career, and focusing on music.

DB: Oh boy, he was, because I was going to try to stick it out with pre-med, and then go to Davis, where they had a wonderful veterinarian school.

SS: A vet program.

DB: And, another one up in Idaho, where Bing Crosby went to school.

IB: Oh, that was Washington. Gonzaga?

DB: Gonzaga. But, I planned to go on to veterinarian school.

SS: So, once you became a music major, things were going pretty smoothly until they discovered that you really didn't know how to read music, that you had been covering up for a long time.

DB: Starting with my mother is when I learned to cover up. And, she finally put it all together.

SS: And then, you still were able to go ahead and progress through the music program without any of your professors realizing, but eventually the jig was up. And, how did you manage to cover that up playing in performance classes, and being a music major?

DB: Well, it took some work to cover that up. But, you had to take a stringed instrument. So, I took cello, and I knew the cello from the time I was nine years old I had started on cello. And, so the cello music wasn't that difficult. It wasn't like piano. And, I could get by in that.

And then, I took clarinet, and all you're expected to do is learn the scales, and get familiar with the instrument. And so, no one figured it out yet that I couldn't read. But then I had to take piano. So I figured, "Well, if I take organ, that might cover it up."

But unfortunately, I left the electric organ, which was right below the stage in the big concert room -- I left it on all night. So, he kicked me out and gave me an F. So, but I still had to have keyboard. So, I was sent to the top piano teacher, and it took her about five minutes to figure out I couldn't read. (laughter)

SS: So, when did you actually learn how to read music?

DB: Next year.

SS: The following year?

DB: No, now. (laughter)

SS: Oh, you will next year, really?

DB: No, I'm just kidding, but I learned to read by writing. Most everything I've done is a different approach (laughter), and the Dean, Elliot, of the Conservatory called me in and said I couldn't graduate. Anybody that can't read is a disgrace to the conservatory, and I'll not have you graduating. So, I said, "Fine. That's all right. It doesn't make any difference. I just want to play jazz, and I'm playing all over."

So then Dr. Bodley and Dr. Brown heard about this and came in, and told the dean, "You're making a big mistake." "Harmonically, he's" -- Bodley said, "one of my most interesting and advanced harmonically..." and Dr. Brown taught counterpoint said, "He's written the best counterpoint of any student I've ever had. You're making a mistake."

And he went on and on about what I'd do in music, which no one believed but him. And Bodley believed in me. The rest of the teachers didn't have any faith in me.

SS: So, eventually you were allowed to graduate from the program, and then soon after --

DB: If I promised never to teach, and disgrace the conservatory.

SS: A promise which you've managed to uphold, right?

DB: Pretty much.

SS: I think you did pretty well though, even though you didn't teach.

DB: If starvation were just around the corner, we would teach some way. (laughter) Like, what was that first class we taught?

IB: Well, it was a jazz history course, an extension course at the University of California at Berkeley.

SS: About what year was --

IB: Extension classes in San Francisco and in Berkeley. They were adult evening classes on the history of jazz. And, well, you can tell the story there. That was the only teaching.

SS: And about what year, what era, was this?

DB: That was '46-'47.

IB: A little later, I think '47-'49, somewhere in there.

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