As the son of jazz legend Dave Brubeck, Chris Brubeck fell into music naturally. He references his famous father often, usually referring to him as Dave, as they had a professional as well as personal relationship. “Dan and I both played with Dave. I did about 20 years. His way of approaching music is ingrained in us,” he says. Chris and his brother Dan will be taking the stage at Milliken Auditorium in Traverse City November 18 with the other members of the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Chuck Lamb for an evening of straight-ahead jazz.
Chris is happy to be coming back to Northern Michigan. He’s played here over the years, his music was performed at Bay View this past summer as part of the Crooked Tree Ansel Adams exhibit, and he (and his siblings) attended Interlochen Center for the Arts. Chris was in the area incognito just last year as well, checking out the Canadian Brass at Interlochen. He’d been commissioned to write a concerto for the group and wanted to see and hear them to get a better understanding of their style and performance.
His versatility extends both instrumentally—he’s proficient on both trombone and bass guitar and also plays piano—and across genres. He’s played classical, acoustic jazz, fusion, even rock music. In addition, he is, as above, in demand as a composer as well.
Dave Brubeck and his group, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, were among the biggest stars in the jazz firmament. They sold millions of records, and Dave was the second jazz musician to land the cover of Time Magazine, after Louis Armstrong. Though their shows most often include music familiar to audiences originally performed by his father’s band, Chris isn’t worried about the band being perceived as a tribute group. “We play a lot of Dave’s music. It’s our music too,” he says. Chris was part of his father’s quartet for some 20 years, while brothers Dan and Darius also performed with him, creating the album Two Generations of Brubeck. “‘Blue Rondo a la Turk,’ ‘Take Five’—we played them for years,” Chris says.
Asked if he ever gets tired of playing songs like “Take Five,” he says no. “I’ve been playing this tune 50 or 60 years. It’s a really great composition, and (offers opportunities) for great solos. I appreciate seeing my little brother go nuts and get the accolades he deserves.”
Chris says the solos and even the set lists also depend on other members of the group. “Dad said the fifth member of the band is the audience, and it’s always different. The set list depends too on the acoustics (of the venue).”
This group is one of his favorite means of musical expression. “There are a lot of longtime relationships,” he says, alluding not only to his brother but the other members of the group. Guitarist Mike DeMicco was a member of Dan’s rock group the Dolphins, while Chuck Lamb has been the group’s pianist since replacing original keyboard player Pete Levin a decade ago. “Chuck is a super creative guy. I can be completely surprised at what he might play,” Chris says.
The group has been in the recording studio working on its new project. “It’s been a while since we put out a record. The new CD is around 80 percent finished.”
While he doesn’t dismiss the stage effects prevalent at so many shows today, from fog to lasers to dancers, Chris says it’s still the music that makes or breaks a performance. “Tish (his wife) and I were at the Grammy Awards. It looked like a circus show. The most moving thing was when Kelly Clarkson sang the ‘Tennessee Waltz.’ It was so great to see. The room connected with her. There were no shenanigans.”
That’s not to say he can’t appreciate the additional elements to make a performance an event. When his wife suggested they go see a stadium show by Paul McCartney, he first demurred, dismissing what he felt would be more spectacle than concert. When she said McCartney had earned the right to spectacle, Chris agreed. But he said the highlight was McCartney’s performance of “Yesterday” on solo guitar that cut through the years, connecting those who grew up on the Beatles with their kids and grandkids, all of whom made up the 80,000-member audience.
The Brubeck Brothers Quartet performs at Milliken Auditorium at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 18. The four members of the band simply play the heck out of the music, whether it’s classics written by one or another Brubeck or something else they pull out of their collective experience. Tickets are $27 in advance, $30 at the door and $24 for museum members. Go to MyNorthTickets.com.