BP's Brush With Brubeck

Nov 29, 2020

I believe the year was 1983 when I was asked if I’d like to emcee a concert at the Academy of Music, headlined by Dave Brubeck and his sons and the Modern Jazz Quartet. Without hesitation, the answer was an emphatic yes!

Here was a chances to meet Dave Brubeck, whose music I enjoyed, along with members of the MJQ, whose music I also played on the air.  It was also an opportunity to see Percy Heath, a former South Philly neighbor I hadn’t seen in several decades. The Heath and Perkins families lived on the same block for about 10 years—a time prior to the brothers, Percy, Jimmy and Albert, becoming internationally known jazz figures.

Listen to BP, back in 2012, talk about Brubeck's legacy.

That fortuitous night for me became more rewarding because after bringing Brubeck and his three sons on stage, he returned backstage and said, “I see you’ve met my wife”—whom I’d been talking to while he and his sons were playing. Ms. Iola Brubeck sat down beside me, and did not mention her spouse and sons were the ones I’d introduced. Glad I didn’t say anything dumb.

After bringing on the Modern Jazz Quartet, I returned backstage and chatted with Dave and Iola, and  discovered that they had once lived on North Broad Street, just blocks from the Temple Campus, at an apartment House at 1220 North Broad. This was shortly after the complex was built, around 1950, and it is still standing. Ironically, I was living at the same address at the time—but 33 years after the Brubecks' stay.

Dave hit me with another surprise, when it came out that we shared the same birthday, December 6th!

And to top off the eventful evening, I received a culinary tip from Ms. Brubeck on how to bake a turkey in an oil-greased paper bag. This info came about when she related that it was around the Christmas season when she and Dave and their first-born were in Philly, and their household belongings had not arrived from a previous addresss. She got a large paper bag, greased it with cooking oil, stuffed the turkey in the bag, shoved it in the oven and basted it regularly. So, minus a baking pan, Iola used extemporaneous “notes” from her creative mate and baked a turkey…impromptu.   

My chat with Dave and Iola Brubeck that night found them to a be a down-to-earth couple, and in harmony on issues well beyond music.

Dave Brubeck passed away two days prior to his 92nd birthday in 2012, but his contributions to jazz music in its various phases is timeless. Iola Brubeck was a songwriter of some note, and devout supporter of her husband over the decades they were wed, and at a time when history was fashioning Dave's legend. Iola passed away two years after Dave.

“I’m just now beginning to understand myself. But it would have been great to be able to understand myself better when I was 20, rather than when I was 82.” —Dave Brubeck