The first road tour his band ever took, he tells us, was in a Kaiser Vagabond.
The audience laughs, some remembering such a car and the rest of us just laughing at the name, which now sounds both ancient and cheerfully Bohemian. We can picture the Dave Brubeck Quartet piling into the Vagabond, in the days before Brubeck had put his mark on American jazz."We played at the University of Oregon, Moscow, Idaho, and Salt Lake City," Brubeck tells the audience. "We thought, `Boy, we've really made it!' "
Now, 47 years later, he is back in Salt Lake City - this time a legend, of course. In the years in between he has become one of the most famous names in jazz. He has also played Salt Lake at least a couple dozen times - and he can still draw a sell-out crowd. Two of them, in fact.
Opening night's show was energetic, nostalgic, upbeat, and still, after all these years, cool. Brubeck's quartet, we're reminded in the program, launched the sound that came to be known as "cool jazz."
From his standard beginning number - "St. Louis Blues" - to the grand finale - his signature "Take Five" - Brubeck and his quartet made the audience happy. It was hard not to be happy just watching Brubeck grin over the keys each time his sidemen - Randy Jones on drums, Bobby Militello on sax and flute, Jack Six on bass - took a solo. Brubeck looks like an aging professor now, but his attack on the keys is still both forceful and playful.
The evening included familiar tunes, like the almost-waltz "Three to Get Ready," and brand-new compositions like "Deja Vu All Over Again" from his newest CD, which hit the stores yesterday.
The first time I ever saw Brubeck in person I was maybe 17. Brubeck had, eight years before, been on the cover of Time magazine, honored for both his boldness and his ability to bring jazz to the people.
He was on the cutting edge then, and to like him as a high school student, we thought, made us grown-up and possibly Bohemian, and even cooler than when we listened to folk music. Of course, I didn't know anything about his unusual use of time signatures and counterpoint rhythms. I just liked that amazing song, "Take Five."
Thirty-five years later, "Take Five" and Brubeck may not be cutting edge anymore - but as he began the familiar, lilting melody on the piano last night, and then Militello came in on sax, and the 5/4 time got inside your bones, and Jones plunged into one of the most famous drum solos of all time - it was clear that Dave Brubeck, at 77, is still magic.