I hear you're mad about Brubeck
I like your eyes, I like him too
He's an artist, a pioneer
We've got to have some music on the new frontier…
Donald Fagen – "New Frontier" (1982)
Dave Brubeck has enjoyed the status of "legend" for so many years now, it is hard to imagine the impact this concert had in 1953. The Brubeck Quartet’s appeared at Oberlin College in March of that year was something of a breakthrough for a couple of reasons. Until then, jazz was still associated with “gin-joints,” and a pretty unsavory lifestyle. Brubeck’s clean, clear arrangements showed an audience of classical music snobs just how sophisticated his music could be. The fact that Jazz At Oberlin was one of the first commercially released live jazz recordings is of no small import either.
Brubeck’s cohorts that night included bassist Ron Crotty, drummer Lloyd Davis, and longtime collaborator Paul Desmond on saxophone. All four were on fire, and in Davis’ case, it was almost literal as he was suffering from a 103 degree temperature.
“These Foolish Things (Remind Me Of You)” opens the set up with some fine sax from Desmond. When Brubeck takes a piano solo, the crowd erupts, as it would throughout the night. The classic “Perdido” follows, and while the song is most often linked to Duke Ellington, Brubeck’s quartet gives it an energetic reading. Desmond in particular really stands out, as does the bass of Crotty.
The group’s selection of material was superb, and next up is the beautiful Hoagy Carmichael ballad “Stardust.” Sometimes Dave Brubeck’s piano sounds best when he hangs back a bit, as he does here. Once again, the crowd roars its approval at the end of his solo. Another huge response greets both Brubeck’s and Desmond’s leads in another great tune, “The Way You Look Tonight.”
The longest song is also the final one: “How High The Moon” (9:11). The opening theme is presented elegantly by Brubeck, before Desmond comes blazing in. The two trade furious solos throughout the piece, and reach a searing climax in tandem. The quartet practically tear the roof off Oberlin with this tune, and the audience goes absolutely ballistic.
Jazz At Oberlin is the latest in Fantasy Records Original Jazz Classics series of remastered and reissued classic albums. When it originally appeared on CD back in the eighties, 24-bit remastering technology did not yet exist. Thanks to engineer Joe Tarantino’s utilization of the process, Jazz At Oberlin has never sounded better. As always in the OJC series, the liner notes are outstanding as well.
One of the more interesting tidbits revealed in the notes is the origin of the cover. The photo of the group was not taken at the college, but at an apartment building in Hollywood which somewhat resembled Finney Chapel, where they had performed. The apartment building turned out to be managed by Lenny Bruce’s mother, of all people.
Dave Brubeck would grace the cover of Time magazine the following year (back when such an appearance actually meant something), and his career skyrocketed. But the release of Jazz At Oberlin set everything that was to follow into motion. It is a great milestone in Dave Brubeck’s career.