By Wendi Maxwell, Guest Contributor
Wendi Maxwell, jazz vocalist and band leader, performs regularly in Northern California with her own Tres Hot Jazz Band, singing straight-ahead jazz, up-tempo swing and vocalese, sambas and ballads. You can visit her website at www.wendimaxwell.com.
The flags were at half-mast on Dave Brubeck Way. Dave Brubeck, jazz pianist, composer, and worldwide ambassador of peace, died in mid-December, one day before his 92nd birthday. Here in Stockton, home of the Brubeck Institute, we mourned Dave’s spirit of improvisation and innovation.
Dave was featured in the 1950s on the cover of Time magazine. His ground-breaking album “Take Five” remains one of the best-selling jazz albums of all time. His poly-tempo, poly-rhythmic compositions caused audiences to listen to jazz in an entirely new way, leaving behind standard time signatures and rhythms, and causing new musicians of all genres to find ways to break free of the habits of centuries of Western music.
In our poverty-stricken town, Dave’s impact was more immediate and more personal. A graduate of the University of the Pacific’s Conservatory of Music, Dave endowed the university with one of the world's largest and most comprehensive collections from a contemporary musician, establishing the Brubeck Institute. The archives hold correspondence, legal and business documents, recordings, manuscripts, photographs, and printed programs. But more than papers, the Institute supports active jazz performance ranging from students to world-class professionals.
I had the opportunity to meet Dave a couple of times. He was a tall, distinguished gentleman with a ready smile and twinkling eyes. When he played on stage with young musicians, he beamed love and support their way. People who met him felt he was a personal friend, even after only a couple of sentences. Those of us in the jazz community heard “Take Five” (or sang or played “Take Five”) so many times that we joked it should be the local ringtone…
The emergence of the Brubeck Institute brought local jazz into focus. Our blue-collar town of 300,000 currently boasts jazz performances and jams five nights a week. Nowadays, when a local group looks for music for a fundraising event, jazz is often the first place they turn. For a community reeling from years of financial hardship, music is solace to everyone.
Improvisation and innovation are the hallmarks of jazz, and individuals and groups across our town find themselves in the midst of innovation and improvisation at all levels. Neighborhoods and the community as a whole are banding together in unprecedented ways. I have to believe that Dave would applaud the creativity and spontaneity that’s emerging around town as we tackle some really tough problems. Maybe having jazz as the sound track of our community life is helping us come together, trust each other, and find new ways to get along.