If there’s one thing Chris Brubeck was born to do, it was play music. Brubeck, 55, is the son of all-time great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, and he says he understood early on that he wanted to follow in his dad’s footsteps in some manner. “I have always sort of wanted to do this,” he says in a phone interview from his home in Wilton, Connecticut. “My father knew early on. He could tell early on that I had talent. He saw I could clap along and sing to the music. And I grew up hearing good music around me, you know, I could see Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, Gene Wright, and people like Gerry Mulligan in my living room as a little kid.”
Then, of course, came the travel. As he was growing up, Brubeck and his brothers, Dan, Darius, and Matthew, spent time traveling the nation and world with their father as he played gigs far and near. “It was almost a similar thing to what Bobby Bonds and Barry Bonds experienced,” he says. “I think I was meant to do this. It’s what keeps me working on my compositions, branching out and always really working hard at it.”
The Brubeck Brothers Quartet will perform at the Morrisville Jazz Festival on Monday, September 3 (Labor Day), between 2:30 and 4 p.m. at Williamson Park on East Bridge Street in Morrisville, PA. The quartet of pianist Eric Mintel, who has played the festival each year and is the talent booker, will be onstage between noon and 2 p.m.
The quartet, featuring Brubeck on bass and bass trombone, his brother Dan on drums, Mike DeMicco on guitar, Pete Levin on organ, with special guest Taylor Eigsti on piano, is now promoting its 2006 record, Intuition (Koch Records). The disc has received uniformly good reviews and is available online and on iTunes as well as other, more traditional media.
Eigsti is the erstwhile teen phenom — he’s now a 20-something — from California, who has played this area as a leader and sideman (and been profiled in U.S.1 TK). He had been associated with Dave Brubeck since he was 13, when he went backstage during a Brubeck show and wowed the elder statesman with his skills, and he later performed live with him.
Eigsti will not be playing the Morrisville gig — the pianist will be Chuck Lamb, who will also be on the quartet’s next record. “I love his playing, and he is great,” says Chris Brubeck of Eigsti. “We had always wanted to do this record. I have known him since he was a kid, and it was always a fantasy of mine.” According to Brubeck, Eigsti gigs with bassist Christian McBride and other musicians, so he can’t play often with the Brubecks.
Intuition is definitely what you could call a straight-ahead jazz record but there are elements in there that are distinctly Brubeck and definitely eclectic. Dave Brubeck loved playing in difficult and strange time signatures, and Dan Brubeck, who wrote some of the compositions and, as drummer, sets the rhythmic framework, deals with time in songs like “Sahara Moon,” which switches between permutations of three and four beats in 11/4 time, sometimes placing the emphasis on 4-4-3, sometimes 3-3-5.
‘Sometimes I’m not even sure what Dan even does,” says Chris. “He has the ability to specialize in odd time signatures. His two most important teachers were (Dave Brubeck sideman) Joe Morello and Alan Dawson.”
In addition to his work with his quartet and his dad’s groups, Brubeck writes and performs classical music and also has a group, Triple Play, who perform jazz, classical, and world music, most recently performing in mainland China and Singapore with traditional Chinese musicians. “It was a cultural meeting of East and West,” Brubeck says. “The musicians were really into what we were doing. We wanted them to improvise. They asked us to write out the parts, but we said, `No, that’s what this is all about. You have to make it up.’ The audience went nuts when they heard it.”
The groups, he says, did a Dave Brubeck tune called “Koto Song.” “Here we were, playing with the ancestor of the koto, an instrument that the Japanese had gotten from the Chinese. I can’t wait to play it for Dave.”
Brubeck has been quite busy as a composer. He has also been commissioned to write a composition for three of the world’s top violinists: classical virtuoso Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg, jazz genius Regina Carter, and Celtic fiddler Eileen Ivers, as well as a classical/jazz piece, Vignettes for Nonet, with members of the Philadelphia Orchestra and the hip ensemble Imani Winds, which plays classical, jazz, and other music with cutting-edge creativity. Brubeck is hoping that some of his compositional work, especially that with Imani Winds, gets play on what he calls “liberal open-minded classical music (radio) stations.”
“When we do Vignettes,” he says, “it really gets audiences excited on the classical and jazz ends, and that’s what is really fun about it. It was a logical thing. We are all on (the record label) Koch, and we had the same executive producer for my classical records. We hope the work will make inroads in the worlds of classical music and jazz.”
Brubeck, born in California, grew up in Connecticut with his father, mother (Iola), and his brothers. “My dad figured out that if we lived on the East Coast, he’d be home about 60 days more than if we lived on the West Coast,” he says. Brubeck grew up listening to jazz, of course, but also rock and soul and funk. He graduated from Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and attended the University of Michigan in the mid-1970s as a trombone performance major. Brubeck never stayed long enough to get his degree, partly because he was working with his rock and funk bands Sky King and New Heavenly Blue.
He had been signed to Columbia Records and had recorded what he thought was going to be a great album with Michael and Randy Brecker among the many musicians who collaborated. But record company politics killed the project’s release, and Brubeck was very angry. Some of the musicians on the project, he says, even quit the business in frustration.
But Dave Brubeck told Chris to forget the bad experience and go on the road with him. So father and son — and the rest of the brothers — toured the world together.
The brothers and their dad still collaborate at times. Both Chris and Dan just finished a festival gig with their father, and Dan Brubeck, as stated, is in the quartet with Chris. Darius, who has lived in South Africa for the past two decades but is moving his operations slowly to Europe, comes to Britain or other parts of the continent about once every five years to play with his dad and brothers, and they sometimes go to Africa to gig with Darius as well.
Of the four siblings, Chris Brubeck is the one who has stayed closest, in terms of proximity, to his parents, who are now in their 80s. “I moved back to Connecticut a few years ago to raise a family (he and his wife, Tish, have three grown children) and to keep an eye on my parents,” he says.
Morrisville Jazz Festival, Monday, September 3, 9 a.m. Morrisville, Williamson Park, Delmorr Avenue, Morrisville. Eric Mintel Quartet, 1 p.m.; Brubeck Brothers Quartet, 4 p.m. Morrisville Fire Company’s 25th annual 10k run, 9 a.m. Kids activities including sack races, 12:30 p.m. Little Bulldogs football activities, 2 p.m. The fire company’s golf ball drop, 3:30 p.m. Classic car show all day with awards at 5:30 p.m. 215-295-8181.