I met the great jazz composer and performer Dave Brubeck backstage at the Hampton Jazz Festival in 1971. As a magazine journalist, I had a press pass that afforded me introductions to many entertainment and sports personalities. Brubeck’s 1959 hit Take Five, with saxophonist Paul Desmond, was still a popular concert request a dozen years later.
Dave Brubeck was very approachable and a generous interview subject. I appreciated him as a worldwide ambassador for an art form that I loved: American jazz. His passing in December 2012, nearing the age of 92, reminds me that great music never dies.
I once thought of myself as a band singer and had enough performing experience to have a deep respect for the real professionals. During my college days, I sang with swing bands that played country clubs in the early 1960s, and I even did a nightclub solo act with a tenor guitar by performing the Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary songbooks.
In the 1970s I would sometimes do a set of pop standards with a visiting band. A highlight for that kind of walk-on was singing with Bob Crosby, the brother of Bing, at a convention gala.
My favorite performing partner, however, was the irrepressible Norfolk, Virginia attorney and philanthropist Peter Decker. Pete introduced me to Danny Thomas, who invited me to sing “It’s A Sin To Tell A Lie” on the St. Jude Children’s Hospital telethon. I recorded the song in a studio and then lip-synced it in front of the telethon set in a local television studio. The tape then played in 16 major markets during the national telethon, but I got no calls to sing anywhere else.
Pete also introduced me to movie and television star Telly Savalas, his brother-in-law, and we had a couple of great trips to Las Vegas together. As a singer, however, I was way out of my league in Vegas. But in Norfolk, Virginia, Pete and I had the opportunity to do cabaret shows with some great musicians including trumpet player Lucian Montagna.
After taking our solo turns, Pete and I once did a takeoff on the Dean
Martin and Jerry Lewis comedy routine where Jerry fights his way through the band to interrupt Dean trying to sing a love song. At that show I paid two front-row lady friends to throw lace panties at Pete, a la Tom Jones, during one of his romantic ballads. Fortunately, some photos remain of us performing on stage.
Seeing the homage being paid to Dave Brubeck triggered many memories of my minor-league performance days. The road to success as a performance artist, I have to admit, is much more difficult than writing literature. As writers, we can put our pens down and take a break for days, or even months. When you are a professional musician, you can only “take five.”