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Local celebs: Dan Brubeck

Local celebs: Dan Brubeck

Dan Brubeck is one of the jazz world’s most renowned drummers, a player known for his distinctive solos and mastery of polyrhythms. He’s also the son of jazz legend Dave Brubeck. “In a lot of way he’s just your dad,” says Brubeck sitting on the deck of his Halfmoon Bay home. “My dad’s friends happened to be guys who were some of the world’s greatest musicians, but for me they were just Uncle Paul [Desmond] or Uncle Gerry [Mulligan].” Uncle Joe Morello gave him his first set of drums and was an early mentor. That Brubeck ended up playing drums had a lot to do with his temperament. “I had a ton of energy as a kid so my parents spent every waking hour trying to wear me out,” he laughs. “Playing drums was one of those things.”

Brubeck’s passion for drumming had him on the road with his father at the age of 17. “He knew I hated school,” says Brubeck. “I took more after my dad who just liked to play music and wasn’t that interested with the hubbub that went with it.” The elder Brubeck’s music is famous for its odd time signatures and layering of contrasting rhythms, metres and tonalities. As a drummer, Brubeck soaked it all in. “It influenced me a lot,” says Brubeck of his father’s music. “Most people in my generation were associating with 4/4 time. They were hearing rock beats,” he explains. “We [the Brubeck brothers] would take Beatles tunes and play them in 5/4. It’s easy for us to think in odd time signatures.”

Though Brubeck was born in California and grew up in the New York City area, he has several Canadian connections. He spent spent summers in Nelson, BC where his family had a summer home, and when his own children came of school age, he moved his family there as the ones in California were “awful.” Though he liked living in Nelson, it was isolated and hard to get to gigs, necessitating a move to West Vancouver. He’s been living on the Sunshine Coast for the last four years, after Miles Black recommended the area to him. Before settling into jazz, Brubeck explored other musical options, including playing with Canadian rockers, The Band. “I always really loved their music so to be able to play with them was really an honour for me,” says Brubeck. In the 1990s he played and recorded three CDs with The Dolphins, a jazz fusion group described as “an engaging mix of traditional and futuristic jazz.” He’s played with Roy Buchanan, Larry Coryell, and Alan Dawson. In addition to playing with his brothers Chris and Darius in Brubecks Play Brubeck, and with Chris in the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, he has his own group, the Vancouver-based Dan Brubeck Quartet. He founded DBQ, in part, to bring to fruition a project to celebrate his father’s music and his mother, Iola’s, lyrics. “She was a great lyricist,” says Brubeck. “That’s something that’s been overlooked.” The resulting CD, Celebrating The Music and Lyrics of Dave and Iola Brubeck, received a Juno nomination for Best Jazz Vocal Album in 2016. Iola was also an astute promoter and manager, moving jazz concerts away from smoke filled bars to college campuses and concert halls. “This stroke of genius,” writes Brubeck in the CD liner notes, “managed to change the face of jazz in America.”

Over his long and distinguished career, Brubeck has also garnered Grammy nominations, toured the world, played with symphonies, and in front of presidents when his father received the Kennedy Center Honors and Barack Obama was in the audience. “The energy backstage was super positive,” recalls Brubeck. “Luckily I was standing next to Herbie Hancock and they’re [Hancock and Obama] quite good friends, so he introduced me.” Despite all his achievements, Brubeck isn’t slowing down. A new album is due out this fall and he’s starting a European tour in January. He confides that the Gibsons Heritage Playhouse is one of his favourite venues to play in for its intimate feel. “I keep wanting to get my brothers out here to do something,” he says. Here’s hoping Brubeck can add that to his long list of achievements. – Anna Nobile



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