Dave and Iola Brubeck on the legendary concert at Oberlin College in 1953
SS: Getting back to the early and mid '50s, I want to talk a little bit about a couple of albums, Jazz at Oberlin recorded 1953 at Oberlin College in Ohio really proved to be a landmark album that is still widely considered one of the more vital live jazz recordings in history. What made that performance so special? What was going on that night that was captured and still remains 55 years later so compelling? What was happening at Oberlin that night?
DB: You're right. The quartet was playing at its peak. I think it's the best live performance, or maybe performance, I've ever heard of Paul Desmond. He was just perfection on fire that night.
And, I was probably a little disappointed in that they wouldn't give me a good piano, and I had an old grand, but it was in terrible shape. And, I remember that so much thinking that they said, you know, "The jazz musician can't play the good piano."
SS: They gave you the second rate piano.
Russell Gloyd: Tell them what Dean said to you before you went on, that you weren't welcome here, and be prepared for a very negative reaction from the students.
SS: So, the Dean of the Conservatory of Music at Oberlin had to talk to you ahead of time to kind of prepare you for what might transpire?
DB: Yeah, that we weren't welcome. And, you know, it's hard to believe because now almost every good conservatory has a great jazz department. But, in those days, they were still thinking that jazz was terrible music, and not to be associated with the conservatories.
One time I was told, "You're playing at this school. It's a Catholic school to train nuns and organists. And, I don't think you're going to have a good audience at all." So, we went out and started to play, and I remember the nun came out on stage to announce us, and was trying to soften up the situation.
After the first tune, that audience went crazy for us. And, it was because they were all studying Bach and counterpoint. So, we really laid on some Bach and counterpoint (laughter), the influence of Bach.
IB: And Paul's saying they were out there shaking their habits. (laughter)
DB: Yeah, that's what Paul said (laughter). They're out there shaking their habits.
SS: Was it a similar dynamic with the audience at Oberlin then, where --
DB: Oh, you have to listen to the recording. You hear that audience at Oberlin.
SS: So, despite the fact that you were prepped by the dean saying that you were going to face at least skeptical and perhaps hostile audience, do you think your classical references and influences that won them over? Was it just the sheer power of your improvisations that night? What was the catalyst behind that being such a dynamic performance?
DB: Well, it's hard to know how things will just turn in the right direction for you. But, that night shouldn't have been a good night. But, my drummer had a fever of 102, and was not feeling well at all. But, he came alive right from the beginning, and started really playing. He was quite ill. I was worried about him before going on, you know, "Would he be able to play?" He played great.
IB: There was another factor in it, too, I think in that it was the students' Jazz Club who sponsored this concert. It didn't come from Oberlin College or from the conservatory. So, I think there was probably in the audience from the students, a little bit of this, "Boy, this has to work," you know, or else our idea of having a series of jazz artists come in is just going to go down the drain. And so, I'm sure there were some enthusiastic people in the audience spurring everybody on. But, there were a lot of faculty in the audience too from what I understand. And so, everyone sort of got swept up into it.
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