The day I spent with Dave Brubeck, and how it changed me
Several years ago, when I hosted an afternoon jazz radio show, Dave Brubeck came to town to do some concerts at the university. As a result of my job, I got to spend the better part of a day with him – we hung out at a fancy party one evening, and then the next day he came into the station and co-hosted my show with me.
My hand to god, this was a transformative experience for me, because he was so … kind. Just utterly human and sweet and kind. I’ve been around plenty of famous musicians, but I have never had this experience, where someone so famous and so big was just another guy, asking me questions about my family and genuinely listening to the answers, having a two-way conversation. He was nice to me.
When he left that day, it dawned on me: Dave Brubeck was kind to me. Here is a man who stared down racism in the 1950s; club owners told him that only his white musicians were welcome, and he replied, to hell with you, you either take my whole band or you don’t get any of us. He stared down racism and racism blinked. This man is a giant. He is a hero, and a national treasure. And his music? My god, there has never been anything better. And he was kind to me.
And that’s when I decided, damnit, if Dave Brubeck can be genuinely kind to me, a total stranger working at a Kentucky radio station, nobody has an excuse to not be kind. From that day forward, I stopped accepting attitude from people. I am worthy of basic human decency, and so are all the other people around me. You deserve it as well.
I will forever be grateful for that lesson that he taught me. I have thought about that day many, many times in the years since.
And then there is this remarkable thing. In the very coldest days of the cold war, Dave played a show for students in Moscow. Watch what happens when a young Russian man stands up and starts playing violin. Watch the sheer joy on the master’s face. Music can bridge any divide.
Now, I’m off to the basement to put on some records. Thank you for everything, Mr. Brubeck.