It must be difficult for the offspring of a legend to carve his or her own space in the same profession, but to hear Chris Brubeck play piano you wouldn’t think he had a moment’s hesitation about filling the shoes of his father, Dave.
Chris Brubeck brought his group Triple Play to the Bickford Theatre at the Morris Museum in Morris Township on Saturday, January 20, to an audience, many of whom looked of an age to have appreciated his father. At the first notes of “Take Five,” the crowd erupted in applause and smiles and the pleasure didn’t stop for two hours.
Triple Play consists of Brubeck on piano, bass and trombone; Joel Brown on guitar, and Peter “Madcat” Ruth on harmonica, jaw harp, and percussion.
While they did play some of the elder Brubeck’s classics, Triple Play ventures into folk and blues with the same precision and grace they use to attack the old standards of jazz.
And Chris charms the audience with anecdotes about the songs.
“Blue Rondo a la Turk” came to the elder Brubeck while listening to some indigenous Turkish music. He was entranced by the 9/8 rhythm, but decided to add in the blues in his creation.
Dave Brubeck traveled a great deal during his career, his son explained. “The Eisenhower Administration used to send jazz musicians around the world to show off American freedom.” This is how Dave managed to combine Polish and Japanese influences in “Unsquare Dance.”
They also played “Polly,” named for a little girl who lived near the Brubecks in Wilton, CT. It is written in two keys at once, sometimes three, known as polytonality.
Chris Brubeck and Madcat Ruth met through a mutual friend while in high school. Chris was studying classical music at Interlocken Arts Academy in Michigan and a girl he knew from Chicago also knew Madcat.
“We immediately made plans to play rock and roll and get famous and tour the world and have hit records,” Chris said. “A couple of those things happened.”
He met Joel 25 years ago, playing classical guitar, and asked him if he wanted to play jazz and blues.
Brown teaches at Skidmore, where Chris was asked to adjunct 15 years ago. They brought Brown’s father, a clarinetist, and Dave Brubeck, then 90, to a hall near the Saratoga Springs school for a concert.
“Just what a 90-year-old wants, a 3-hour train ride,” Chris joked. His father was very frail, but when he sat down at the piano, it was like he lost 20 years. They recorded the show without telling their parents and as Chris was helping his father off the stage, Dave said, “I wish we had recorded this.” It turned out to be the last recording of the elder Brubeck playing.
In a nod to their own advancing years, the group played “Madelyn,” a song Brown wrote for his second grandchild.
They also played some of their favorite Mississippi party music and plenty of blues, which Brucbeck noted, is the father of rock and roll and jazz.
As a special treat, they enticed Rob Paparozza, a New Jersey-based harmonica player who plays with Steve Cropper and the Original Blues Brothers Band, for a couple of songs.
The only surprising thing about the show is there were a few empty seats. But the audience loved every minute of the performance.