Dave Brubueck on his musical development at Mills College under Darius Milhaud


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SS: And part of that transition, I would imagine, involved your enrollment at Mills College in Oakland in 1946 where you studied under French Composer Darius Milhaud. What kind of impact did Milhaud on your career, and your approach to music?

DB: It was fantastic. He was one of the few great accepted classical composers that absolutely liked and accepted jazz. And, he was the first one to use the jazz idiom in classical music in a piece called The Creation of the World, which was a ballet, and a great piece. Bernstein recorded it, and said, "It's still the best piece that's ever combined classical and jazz." It's just great.

SS: And, did he really encourage you to bring those two traditions together in your playing, in your compositions, your jazz background, and your interest in learning through him about classical compositions?

DB: Absolutely, and the octet was formed in his class. He said, "How many of you have played jazz? Hold up your hand." And so, there was Bill Smith, Dave van Kriedt, Dick Collins, Jack Weeks, and myself. That's five of the eight were in that class. Then we got Paul Desmond from San Francisco State, and Cal Tjader from San Francisco State to join up with us until we had eight people.

And, Dick Collins' brother Bob Collins on trombone. That was the eighth. And, that was born right in his class. Our first concert was done at Mills, which he asked us to play for the students, which were all girls. The second was the College of the Pacific. We went up and played in the very auditorium, where I had been kicked out of. (laughter)

And, several things began to happen. Phi Mu Alpha always blackballed me every year, and I didn't care. But this year they gave me an honorary membership in Phi Mu Alpha. (laughter)

SS: Is it true that you came to him really wanting to become a classical composer, and he kind of turned that on its head and encouraged you to become a jazz musician who incorporated a classical approach. Is that true?

DB: He said, "Why would you want to give up jazz, something you do so well and become a classical composer?" And I said, "Well, that's what I thought I'd study to be." He said, "Don't do that. Keep your jazz, and bring it into your classical music that you write."

And he said, "You know, you're free. You can go any place in the world, and if there's a piano, you can make a living," he said, "whereas someone like me, I have to teach, and go to these stupid faculty meetings that drive me crazy. You'll never have to do that. Don't give up what you've got. I'd like to have what you have. You want to have what I have, but I would like to have what you have. Don't give it up." Then he'd say before the lesson began, "Boo-Bee, Boo-Boo."

SS: Boo-Boo was his nickname was for you, right?

DB: "Hey Boo-Boo, make boogie-woogie. Make boogie-woogie." Then he'd say, "Oh, I wish I could do that." (laughter)

SS: At Mills College, you were to do a recital of one of your compositions, right?

DB: Two.

SS: Two, and things went a little bit not as planned, I guess, right?

DB: All of a sudden, I was looking at my music, and I went blank. And, there were critics there, and the whole conservatory, and all the students. So, I kept playing, but I played something...

SS: Just improvising on the spot?

DB: Improvising, yeah. And, I finished about three minutes of that, and there was applause. so I thought I'd try the second piece to see if I could hang in there. The same thing happened again, and I improvised. So, the next day, my brother wanted to kill me. He was teaching there.

He was Milhaud's assistant, and the next day my brother gave me a long, strict talk after that recital saying what he thought I should do (laughter). And, the next day I had a class with Milhaud, and he said, "Boo-Boo, very good, but not what you wrote." (laughter)

SS: So, the performance part was great. It's just the composition part wasn't quite connecting.

DB: But nobody knew but Milhaud.

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