On Sunday, December 20, 2020, pianist Eric Mintel paid tribute to his mentor and hero, Dave Brubeck, who would have turned 100 years old on December 6. At the New Jersey Jazz Society’s December Virtual Social, Mintel’s quartet played a variety of classics closely associated with Brubeck, plus one Brubeck-inspired Mintel original, “Bigfoot”.
In addition to the mega-hits, “Take Five”, written by Paul Desmond, and Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk”, the quartet played “Three to Get Ready”, “Koto Song”, “Unisphere”, and “Nomad”. “Three to Get Ready”, often described by Brubeck as a “happy waltz”, is often overlooked because it was on the classic 1959 Columbia album, Time Out, which included “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo”.
“Koto Song”, from the 1964 Columbia album, Jazz Impressions of Japan, was inspired by two female musicians Brubeck saw in Kyoto. In the album’s liner notes, Brubeck wrote that he was “most fascinated by the koto, a 13-string convex-shaped zither that traces its ancestry to the Chinese dulcimer. The koto is an instrument of rare delicacy and beauty, which blended with voice or flute, seems to suggest the ethereal quality of Japan’s gardens and misty landscapes.” “Unisphere” was from another 1964 Columbia album, Time Changes, which, as its title implies, employs the unusual time signatures Brubeck became famous for.
Brubeck was greatly impressed by the music and sounds of the Middle East and Asia, and Time Out, as well as the 1958 Columbia album, Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, was motivated by a State Department-sponsored tour that consisted of 80 concerts in 14 countries including Iran, Iraq, and India. “Blue Rondo a la Turk”, Mintel pointed out, was created by Brubeck after he heard the music on the streets of Istanbul, music that he considered the Turkish equivalent of the blues. “Nomad” was from Jazz Impressions of Eurasia.
Time Out was the first jazz album to sell one million copies, and it reached Number 2 on the Billboard pop album chart. Mintel’s quartet – Nelson Hill on alto sax, Dave Mohn on drums, and Jack Hegyi on bass – has been together for 20 years. Brubeck, said Mintel, “has been an inspiration to me both musically as well as humanly.”
The next NJJS Virtual Social, to be held from 7-8 p.m. on Saturday, January 16, will be a tribute to the great New Jersey jazz guitarists by guitarists Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo. The concert can be viewed by logging onto the New Jersey Jazz Society Facebook page (NJJS). There is no charge, but donations are welcome.
Funding for the New Jersey Jazz Society socials has been made possible in part by Morris Arts through the New Jersey State Council of the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. Additional funding has been provided through a generous grant from Nan Hughes Poole.