Jazz is cool. Inherently, it seems. It is full of exchange—player to player, band to audience, audience to band. Jazz holds time in a pocket, fitting time signatures inside time signatures.
It reacts to itself. Cool jazz to bebop. Hard bop to cool jazz. A system of artistic checks and balances. Musical debate over a geography of regions...the arguments a beautiful mess of composition and improvisation. Subversion of the grids and power systems, with spontaneity at its heart.
It seems odd, then, that a jazz album full of songs from Walt Disney’s earliest motion pictures would be considered a classic. In the culture of jazz, the House Of Mouse is the institution, the machine. It’s square. The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s Dave Digs Disney is anything but square. It is considered the group’s second-most important album, just behind Time Out. It is, as stated before, a classic.
The story goes like this: Dave Brubeck was walking through Disneyland with his kids in 1957 and hopped into a phone booth to make a call to his producer. “This place is wild,” he said over the line to George Avakian. “And there’s great scenery for photo shoots.”
And so the album concept was conceived. Of course, it helped that the quartet already had enough Disney tunes in its repertoire to fill an LP—a familiarity that comes through with clear confidence and creativity on the recording. Most Disney cover records come across as collections of nearly good ideas, not quite developed enough and better left alone. The Quartet knew these, each other, and knew these songs well enough to make them their own, offering the listener an experience of unexpected familiarity, balanced whimsy, and really good West Coast improvisational cool jazz.
The numbers rise and fall with the emotion and movement of a day spent in Disneyland park. Listener recognition of the basic structure of nostalgic songs gives way to the audible discovery of something new inside that nostalgia. Brilliantly controlled, hurried pace. A sense of pure enjoyment and peace within the improvisation. Time signatures played counter to one another that should not, math says, create enjoyable rhythm. But they do, and unexpected rhythm turns to surprising results when received well. And then we find ourselves alongside something that may have been there all along, we just didn’t notice it.
In a way, Dave Digs Disney feels like a subversive and spontaneous statement of anti-jazz cool. Brubeck was known for brilliantly receiving inspiration from the corners of the photograph, as Anne Lamott would put it. Seeing stories for music and new ways of telling it in places most players wouldn’t even take off their Ray Bans to get a better look at. So, you wonder what clicked that day in Disneyland. What he saw and saw better. The beauty in the square. The opportunity for redemption in the system.
Whatever it was that landed him in that phone booth to get the project rolling before the muse left him, it’s worth trying to see and see again. On Dave Digs Disney, the Dave Brubeck Quartet makes a statement of cool that continues to float above the noise of most anti-establishment jabber nearly 60 years after its release. That is part of the role of the classics—to be learned from and heard—this one with headphones on and eyes on the corners.
"SonHusbandFatherWhiskeyCoffeeMusicSweaters." A stream-of-consciousness compound word describing Chris Hess and what he enjoys and what he enjoys being. Chris also enjoys being the executive director of Everyday Joe's, a non-profit volunteer-powered coffee house, concert venue, and community gathering place that loves you to bits. He has been published very few places.
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