[ Interviews ]
Chris Brubeck and Triple Play
By Janet Reynolds
Editor’s Note: Every summer Norfolk Chamber Music Festival opens its doors and grounds to the community for an afternoon of free events. Want to introduce your children to live music in a family-friendly setting? This is the way to do it. The Open House, which is on Sunday, July 16 beginning at 2:00 p.m., is entirely free and includes an ice cream social, tours of the historic Whitehouse, a concert by the Festival’s Fellows, games, and for the finale, a performance by Chris Brubeck’s Triple Play. We caught up with Brubeck — yes, son of Dave Brubeck — on his busy touring schedule to talk a bit about how he got into music and why he’s excited about this particular gig.
Chris Brubeck is no stranger to Norfolk. He has played at the Festival with his father, the legendary jazz pianist and composer, Dave Brubeck. “Norfolk is one of the greatest situations in all of Connecticut in terms of musical traditions,” Chris says.
As a child, Brubeck was also conscious of Norfolk because his brother took cello lessons from Yale School of Music professor and Festival regular, Aldo Parisot, who was also a good friend of Brubeck’s father. “All his kids are contemporaneous with me,” Brubeck says. “We’re all still good friends.” It makes Norfolk feel, he adds, “more of an extended family concept.”
While Brubeck grew up hearing lots of jazz in his house, he started his own musical training along more traditional roots. He played trombone in the Wilton band and the Norwalk Youth Symphony. Summers were spent at Interlochen Center for the Arts. Bass trombone was his major at University of Michigan.
Then in his junior year, Brubeck missed every class between finals and exams touring with his father. “I always had one foot in the classical world, one in rock ‘n’ roll and one foot in jazz,” he says. “That’s been the three-legged stool of my career.”
Brubeck credits the Beatles with getting him interested in rock ‘n’ roll, which is where he focused his career initially. “I was in 7th grade when the Beatles hit American shores,” he says. “Until them, I thought rock ‘n’ roll was just stupid. It was music for kindergartners.”
Brubeck eventually started composing in part, he jokes, as revenge. As a trombonist in orchestras, he was used to sitting out multiple measures while the rest of the musicians played. “I counted a million bars, sometimes entire movements,” he says, “before coming in. So I had a revenge motive for writing a bass trombone concerto for myself.” That concerto, which he performed with the Boston Pops and which won an ASCAP award, helped launch his composing career. Commissions started coming in, including one for the 100th anniversary of symphony hall in Boston.
After three albums and touring the country playing creative rock ‘n’ roll, Brubeck ran into some “corporate shenanigans” with his record label. Half the band left music all together. “Dad said, ‘Don’t be upset about rock ‘n; roll. Come play jazz with me.;” And so he did.
While he still has his fingers in jazz, playing in the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, for the past decade, Brubeck has had a band called Triple Play. The band, which includes Peter Madcap Ruth on harmonica and guitarist Joel Brown, plays a lot of blues, Brubeck says. “It’s important to remember that blues is the father of rock ‘n’ roll and jazz,” he says, noting he bounces around from playing bass to piano to trombone, depending on the piece. “I’m the triple threat. We can really swing. We don’t have a drummer but it feels like have one from Madcat’s foot.”
“We patrol the area where blues meets jazz and acoustic funk and soul,” Brubeck adds. “This band has such a wide appeal in so many directions. You could like jazz and like this event. You could like blues and like this event. There is something joyful about what we do. This virtuosity is mixed with joy in all these genres.”
Janet Reynolds is a writer, editor and content strategist living in Connecticut. She’s a lifelong cellist and viola da gamba player, and has played in the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra for 36 years.