Performance Style of Dave Brubeck

The performance style of Dave Brubeck Dave Brubeck’s unique performance style is characterized primarily by his use of polytonality, polyrhythm, and immense amounts of improvisation. His style grew from his upbringing and as he put it, “different approach to all of the normal things”. By no means did Dave take the normal approach; he made it all the way threw the conservatory with out being able to read the piano music he was playing. His ability to think on the spot and his amazing ear took jazz to the next level.
He took jazz to a world of difficult technicality and created sounds with depth that amazed all who had the opportunity to listen to him. Brubeck once stated, “And there is a time where you can be beyond yourself. You can be better than your technique. You can be better than most of your usual ideas. And this is a whole other category that you can get into”-Dave Brubeck. Brubeck always went above and beyond, breaking convention. It is this unconventional approach that defined Dave Brubeck’s Style. Polytonality as Dave described it, “(is) using multiple key centers at the same time. He was known for incorporating this technique in to many of his performances, although he admits to not knowing that he is doing it at the time. He naturally did things that were way ahead of his time. His compositions were known to use polytonality although Dave probably would not play them as he had notated them on the page. In the Dave Brubeck Oral History Project he describes a polytonal piece; “One of the early pieces I wrote in 1946 as a student with Darius Milhaud, had three different clefs instead of two clefs treble, treble, bass rather then treble clef, bass clef.
And, I’d be playing a swing bass in this hand in one key, and then adding on these other things in other keys. ” The use of this technique is very aptly described by Mark McFarland who wrote; “Brubeck’s use of polytonality helps to project a general decrease or increase in relative dissonance, thereby clarifying the formal structure on both the small- and large-scale. The comparison with tonal theory extends to include pivot chords; with Brubeck, such chords simultaneously serve as the final chord in a polychordal passage and as the first and most exotic chord in a tonal passage. ”


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Dave Brubeck’s use of polytonality in his performance of jazz standards had a permanent affect on the history of jazz. He brought old tunes to new levels of technicality and virtuosity and in a greater sense, defined a new era in which new ideology and contemporary progression came to light. In 1961 Dave Said “I wanted to do things poly-rhythmically because I thought that jazz was much too tame. The way I wanted to set up the group was that the drummer would be playing one rhythm, the bass player another rhythm, and Paul [Desmond] and I could play in either of those rhythms or a new rhythm . . it’s time that jazz musicians take up their original role of leading the public into more adventurous rhythms. ” Polyrhythm is defined by the Grove Music Dictionary as; the superposition of different rhythms or meters. Meaning that you have two or more conflicting pulses in piece. Dave believes his best example of polyrhythm can be found in his solo on Raggedy Waltz at carnage hall. He describes that “one two, one two” is on the left hand against the waltz in 3 in his right hand. This is only one of many examples of Dave’s use of “poly-rhythmical play”.
He is also known for writing pieces in what are generally considered to be strange meters for jazz. For example Take 5, Unsquare dance or Blue Rondo A La Turk. These pieces feature drastically different rhythmic structures then what was normal were a driving force in what made Dave Brubeck’s music popular. His unique way of interpreting standards using polyrhythms and giving them an entirely new feel and inspiring a generation of musicians to go further outside the box in jazz performances. Brubeck’s polyrhythmic ideas challenged the minds of both performers and listeners.
Improvisation has been an essential part of jazz sense its origin, however Dave Brubeck took it to a whole new level. During his time at College Of The Pacific he managed to get all the way to his last year before any one knew that he couldn’t read music. This was all because of his remarkable improvisation skill and excellent ear. He tells a story of a recital he played at Mills College under Darius Milhaud, where he draws a blank in the middle of the first of two pieces but instead of stopping he simply begins to improvise freely and does the same for the second piece.
At the end of the concert the audience applauded being none the wiser, this is because of his ability to so improvise with such complexity so freely. The only person who knew what happened Darius Milhaud who told him “Boo-Boo [nick name for Brubeck] , very good, but not what you wrote! ” Brubeck credits much of his inspiration for such improvisation to the great Johan Sebastian Bach, because of the similarity between the figured base that Bach would play over with the choir and the chord changes that he and other jazz musician play over today.
With the inspiration of Bach and his own remarkable natural abilities, Brubeck challenged conventional improvisation and built a complex foundation for a new form of improvisational jazz. Dave Brubeck’s performance style can be described using many musical terms such as polytonal or polyrhythmic, but the truly defining factor of his performance style is that it is unique. He himself admits to having each solo being a different from the next often not grasping the true complexity of what he had just played. Ever performance is different from the next. Dave Brubeck is great because he is unique.

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