Eugene Weekly : Music : 4.17.08

Adventures in Time
Jazz legend Dave Brubeck returns with Ramsey Lewis

One early morning in 1954, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck answered a knock on his Denver hotel room door to find America’s greatest musician holding a magazine. “You’re on the cover of Time,” Duke Ellington said.

Dave Brubeck and Ramsey Lewis (pictured). 7:30pm, Sunday, April 27. Hult Center. $35-$65

Belatedly recognizing jazz’s role in popular culture, Time‘s clueless cultural arbiters had debated which jazz star should become only the second (after Louis Armstrong) to grace the magazine’s cover, narrowing the choice to reigning deity Ellington and young rising West Coast star Brubeck, whose bands happened to be touring together when the issue came out. Though he should have been elated at the honor, Brubeck was abashed; he knew his idol should have appeared there first, and immediately wrote a classic tribute called “The Duke.” But the incident, and Brubeck’s square, horn-rimmed image, suspect swing and immense popularity with a white college crowd led many to dismiss him as merely the latest in a long line of white-bread pale imitations of African American music.

In fact, Brubeck was quite an innovator from the get-go, when the young California native studied with the classical composer Darius Milhaud at Oakland’s Mills College and deployed all sorts of avant techniques — too advanced for what was then a traditional San Francisco jazz scene — in his grad school octet that included a smooth-as-silk saxman named Paul Desmond. But even Brubeck’s immensely popular 1950s quartet, which earned him that tainted cover, incorporated unusual (for jazz) time signatures and other innovations, its accessible adventurousness (including Brubeck’s sometimes blustery pianism) often masked by Desmond’s incomparably cool tone. Brubeck also pioneered in other ways, integrating his band with black bassist Gene Wright and losing or turning down gigs from racist venues as a result.

Now nearing 90, the ever-appealing Brubeck continues to perform and has explored vistas such as ballet suites, sacred music, opera, TV soundtracks and non-improvised music — quite a career for a musician almost denied a college music degree because he could do anything with music except read it. His last appearance here was more than a nostalgia trip, and he returns April 27 to the Hult Center’s Silva Hall with another popular jazz ambassador, Chicago pianist Ramsey Lewis.

Alas, Ellington, one of the 20th century’s indispensable musical giants, ascended into the pantheon in 1974. But his immortal music gets a showcase on April 30 (the day after his 109th birthday) at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall, when local saxman, jazz educator and nonpareil radio host Carl Woideck enlists some of the city’s top jazzers in a tribute to the Duke. With many of his greatest tunes played by deeply knowledgeable musicians, this concert makes an ideal intro or an advanced course.

On April 25, the Shedd hosts what promises to be a lovely recital of the rarely heard songs of Norway’s greatest composer, Edvard Grieg. Often drawn from literary sources (Ibsen, Hans Christian Andersen, poems, novels, plays) and folk tunes, Grieg’s miniatures span quite a stylistic range, from poignant Schubertian romanticism to quasi-French impressionism. And there’s no one like the engaging soprano Maria Jette, accompanied by her long time piano partner Sonja Thompson, to convey the charms of unusual (in this case, because of their language, not their quality) music. She’s a witty and engaging — and concise! — explainer who really breaches any barrier between audience and unfamiliar music.

Another accomplished duo performs music of an earlier era on April 23, when you can hear one of the true pioneers of historically informed Baroque music, Dutch violinist Jaap Schroder, along with the UO’s own Baroque master, cellist Marc Vanscheeuwijck, in a free program at Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, 3925 Hilyard. The pair, both world authorities on playing Baroque music the way the composers intended, will perform duets by Italian composers such as Torelli, Jacchini, Vitali, Colombi and more.

World music fans should check out the South African and Hawaiian influenced sound of Paul Prince at World Flavors on April 19. Along with his nationally recognized guitar artistry, Prince has recently built a 24-string kora-like harp which should sound great in such an intimate venue. And on April 30, another world traveler, Raquy Danzinger, and her band the Cavemen bring their fusion of Middle Eastern drumming (she plays the dumbek Arabian hand drum as well as the Iranian kamanche fiddle) and rock to Cozmic Pizza.

Finally, fans of “Too Much Coffee Man” the comic can see the newly expanded refill of Too Much Coffee Man the opera at Portland Center for the Performing Arts through April 20.