By Roy Childs
I was raised in San Leandro in the San Francisco Bay Area. My mother was the neighborhood piano teacher, which pretty much insured I would have as little to do with music as possible. When I reached the age of nine or ten I had mastered a tune by the name of “Crunchy Flakes” which doubled as “Jingle Bells” during the holidays. From then on I had nothing to do with music. But when I was sixteen my mother got some tickets to a concert in the amphitheatre in Joaquin Miller Park, up in the hills above Oakland, and with a newly minted drivers license I agreed to give her a ride.
I remember walking up the ramp from the parking lot to enter the amphitheatre from the rear, high above the stage, and looking across over the stage to see the city lights of Oakland and the Bay Area in the distance. The theatre was filled with an enthusiastic crowd listening to what I thought of at the time as “kind of happy jumpy music” played by a quartet composed of a tall, lanky piano player, and a saxophonist, drummer, and a bass player. The bass player was black, the other three white, and the saxophonist was leaning back against the grand piano, feet crossed, very relaxed, laid back and cool playing his sax. As I remember I didn’t pay much attention to the music but I was very impressed by the dapper dress of the musicians, all wearing the same dark well tailored suits, especially the laid back saxophonist, and the overall cool style of the musicians and the ambiance of the setting, overlooking the lights of the city as it did.
I was in fact listening to the music of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, with Paul Desmond on sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums - one of Dave Brubeck’s most famous quartets. I was also unaware of the significance of a mixed race group in the history of jazz and Dave Brubeck’s contributions to racial integration in jazz music. In fact, I had never even heard of Dave Brubeck!
But over the following weeks I found myself constantly replaying in my mind, over and over, as much of Brubeck’s music as I could remember. I began listening to what I had earlier considered an obscure radio station, KJAZ, where I was introduced to “beboppers,” such as Sonny Stitt, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and to others such as the Modern Jazz Quartet with John Lewis and vocalists such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. And I began collecting LPs including music by some big names of the swing era – Benny Goodman, Glen Miller, Duke Ellington and Artie Shaw – and of course by Dave Brubeck. Although I have become interested in many other forms of music since, my heart has always stayed in touch with jazz.
As luck would have it I ended up teaching for over forty years at the University of the Pacific, Dave Brubeck’s alma mater. I have benefited from Dave Brubeck’s legacy in the form of the University’s Brubeck Institute which has established Stockton’s own jazz club, Take Five at the Brew, and brought many well known musicians to the community including Wynton Marsalis, Eddie Palmieri, Darius, Chris and Dan Brubeck, Sacramento’s Joe Gilman and others, and fine local groups headed by Simon Rowe, Patrick Langham, Nick Fryer, Brian Kendrick, and Joe Mazzaferro, all excellent local jazz artists and educators, and the fantastic Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet composed of the very best young jazz musicians from around the US.
Such good luck that long ago my dear mom needed a ride to a concert! And such good luck that I wound up at the University of the Pacific where I could continue to immerse myself in the best jazz has to offer.