Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Blue Rondo a la Turk -- Dave Brubeck

Once in a while someone will ask, “what was the best concert you ever went to?’  Mine would have to be Dave Brubeck at the Ordway Theater in St. Paul, MN.  I know Brubeck is Jazz and not Blues, but the two are pretty close relatives, wouldn’t you say?

It was sometime back on a nice cool Fall day back around 1985.  My buddy Jerry and I were roommates at the time.  He came home from work one night and said that he heard on the radio that Dave Brubeck was coming to the newly constructed Ordway Theater in downtown St. Paul and that the tickets had just gone on sale that day.  We looked it up in the local entertainment rag and confirmed he was coming.  However, I paused for a moment when I read in the ad that The Brubeck Quartet was performing with the Murray Lewis Dance Studio.  Suddenly a vision burst into my head.  I suddenly dreaded that the show might end up being some art noise accompanied by crazy modern dance nonsense.  I feared it was not going to be the swinging Brubeck I wanted to see play “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”

Jerry persuaded me to quit being a pain in the ass and just get the damn tickets.  Jerry had another great idea.  He suggested we round up a bunch of others to join us.  So we did.  I called the Ordway and ordered 6 tickets--3rd row right in the center!

The night arrived.  It ended up being, myself, Jerry, his girlfriend Jill, our mortuary science friend Craig, my brother Brian and his buddy Chuck.  This was a much more formal affair than I was used to.   At Wilebski’s or Whiskey Junction, it was t-shirt and jeans all the time.  The Dave Brubeck show at the Ordway, on the other hand, was a much finer affair.  For the first time since my confirmation in the Catholic Church, I put on some nice pants, a nice shirt and a sweater.  I looked pretty good if I do say so myself.

We arrived casually early.  I remember strolling the wide concourse of the Ordway with all the other well dressed people.  It was very mellow and comfortable.  There was no bad vibe, there were no big lines at the wine bar and there was plenty of elbow room to amble about.   I bought a wine and just roamed the concourse soaking in every minute of the night before we had to go into the auditorium.  When the time came, we took our seats front and center.  

The lights went low and a slow mellow piano opened from the darkness.  Then spotlights came on and the dancers from the Murray Lewis studio paraded across the stage twirling slowly and meticulously.  My worst fears crept slightly into my consciousness.  Was this going to be some boring dance shit?

My fears were quickly allayed because suddenly the stage lights came on and lit up the Dave Brubeck Quartet as they burst into some swinging Jazz.  The dancers pranced about back and forth across the stage.  And let me tell you something--it was great!  Not only was it Brubeck swinging, but the dancing actually enhanced the whole show.

The show continued like that until intermission.  After grabbing another wine, everyone returned to their seats.  The stage was dimly lit as Brubeck and his band retook the stage.  Nothing had prepared us for the notion that Dave Brubeck and his Quartet were going to have their own segment.  For the next 20-30 minutes it was just Brubeck and his crew jamming.  It was remarkable.

The whole time my buddy Jerry and I were busting inside.  We just wanted to yell, “Yeah, baby!” as loud as we could.  We bottled it up because we weren’t sure those kinds of goings on were allowed at such a formal show.  Then something wonderful happened.  In the middle of one of his jams, Brubeck himself went, “Wooo!”

That was it, the light just turned green.  Jerry and I burst out with our own hoots and hollars.  It wasn’t long before others in the back joined along.

The jam segment of the show segued perfectly as the dancers returned to the stage seamlessly in the middle of an upbeat swinging number.  The crowd just burst into applause.  Eventually, and unfortunately, the show had to end.  There wasn’t a hesitation among anyone in the audience to immediately get to their feet for a standing ovation.

It was a special night that night.  That show at the Ordway was shortly after Brubeck had quadruple bypass surgery.  He must have been fully recovered and happy to be alive, because for a Jazz show, it rocked!  Best concert ever!

In commemoration of that show, here is a great live version of “Blue Rondo a la Turk” which was totally indicative of what we saw that night.  My best case scenario thinking about the concert as it approached was just like this.  Enjoy.



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