The man who taught Brubeck

December 6 2012


Dave Brubeck studied with one of my hyperprolific heroes, Darius Milhaud, and named his son Darius. He was at Mills College, in the Bay Area of San Francisco, only for a year, 1946-47, but continued to see the French composer.

Milhaud, français de Provence et de religion israélite, was in exile during the war, but prolonged his American stay and alternated between Mills and Paris until 1971. He encouraged Brubeck to stick with jazz and study fugue and orchestration, but not classical piano. See John Salmon, What Brubeck Got from Milhaud, American Music Teacher, February/March 1992.

Charming clip at Turner Classic Movies (which I don’t know how to embed) from Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way, a film made for Brubeck’s 90th birthday. Bruce Ricker, director and producer. Clint Eastwood, executive producer. “Historian Ashley Kahn adds context as Dave Brubeck, in several interviews, one with wife Iola, remembers his professor and mentor, composer Darius Milhaud.”

It incorporates part of A Visit with Darius Milhaud, a film made by Ralph Swickard in 1955. I like the moment where Milhaud calls to his wife Madeleine (who died in 2008): “I just finished the second movement of the sonatina, do you want to come and try it on the piano?” An utterance as momentous in the Milhaud household as “I finished the washing up, do you want to come and help with the drying?”. It doesn’t sound like the oboe sonatina of around that time.

Alex Ross had an entry about Brubeck and Milhaud a while back.

Here is Milhaud’s jazz-inspired La création du monde, composed after a visit to Harlem in 1922. The premiere was in Paris with the Ballets suédois – a kind of Swedish Ballets russes – which had commissioned it. Set and costumes by Léger. Here with Orchestre National de France under Bernstein. Some people prefer it with a smaller ensemble.

5 Responses to “The man who taught Brubeck”

  1. davidderrick Says:

    Brubeck and Milhaud shared deep religious conviction, though Brubeck wasn’t Jewish: he became a Catholic in 1980. “I didn’t convert to Catholicism, because I wasn’t anything to convert from. I just joined the Catholic Church.”

    La création, which is based on an African or pseudo-African legend, is not my favorite Milhaud work.

    His best of 1955 was perhaps the sixth symphony, which he recorded with the Louisville Orchestra.

  2. davidderrick Says:

    Madeleine at 102 (Iola says that she died at 104; it was actually 105):

  3. davidderrick Says:

    Hyperprolific heroes, apart from Toynbee, who make occasional appearances here: Clausen, Henze, Milhaud, Simenon, Villa-Lobos.

  4. John Salmon Says:

    I stumbled across your blog and comments about Brubeck and Milhaud. Do you know this piece Brubeck wrote in 2008, just a day or so after Madeleine passed away? It’s on my website:

    • davidderrick Says:

      I hadn’t seen it. Interesting. Thank you.

      Milhaud also taught Burt Bacharach. His piano music should be better known. The old Collard-Béroff-Ivaldi-Lee EMI record was one of my favourite LPs. It never sounded as good on CD.

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