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Freedom’s Song

The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s world tour in 1958 was an unqualified success. As the pianist recalls in this video, fans in the Eastern Block sometimes put themselves at great personal risk to attend the concerts. Brubeck’s Indian admirers had it much easier, of course, and more than 50 years later, many remember the performances fondly. That, of course, was the entire point of the massive US State Department initiative to use jazz to win hearts and minds during the Cold War.

The quartet, who were in India from March 31 to April 13, 1958, kicked off their tour in Rajkot and performed in Bombay, Delhi, Hyderabad, Madras and Calcutta. They had been playing in Western Europe in February and March that year, after which US State Department paid for them to visit eight other countries, besides India. They returned home on May 11, after a gig in Baghdad.

There are many more photos and material about Brubeck’s India adventures at the excellent digital collections of the University of the Pacific here. They include this photo of the Quartet being felicitated by the Sangeet Natak Akademi.

(Thanks to Somini Sengupta for finding this charming piece of animation.)

Battleground Bombay: Hot Jazz and the Cold War

Pakhawaj player Narayan Koli explains a technicality to the Dave Brubeck quartet and others.

One evening in 1958, the pianist Dave Brubeck and his quartet gathered in the home of a jazz-loving industrialist on Mumbai’s Malabar Hill to chat with a group of Indian musicians led by the sitar maestro Abdul Halim Jaffer Khan. Then they picked up their instruments and put their new knowledge to work. The jam session with Khan, the American pianist said later, changed the way he approached his art. “His influence made me play in a different way,” Brubeck told Jazz Journal International. “Although Hindu scales, melodies and harmonies are different, we understood each other…The folk origins of music aren’t far apart anywhere in the world.”


Take Five Comes Full Circle


Over the past couple of weeks, this music video of performers at Pakistan’s Sachal Studios reinterpreting Dave Brubeck’s classic jazz tune Take Five has spread around the world faster than the swine flu. For Western audiences, there’s something compellingly exotic about a string section in Pathani suits. But for Indian jazz fans with long memories, this version of Take Five seems to bring it all back home. Ever since the tune was released in 1959, Indian jazz musicians have maintained that Take Five was the direct result of a lesson Indian jazz drummer Leslie Godinho gave Brubeck’s percussionist Joe Morello in a hotel room in Delhi in 1958. Godinho, the story goes, taught Morello how to play the 5/4 time signature that is the foundation of Take Five.

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