Proof of Life: An Example of Musical “Maturity.” Dave Brubeck Quartet: “Jazz at Oberlin” & “At Carnegie Hall.”

A while back, I became interested in the “intellectualization” of Jazz. What I mean here is simply that I became curious as to how Jazz cemented itself firmly with intellectualism in general and more specifically, education.
There is an obvious answer, I believe, in the amount of music theory that goes into and, in turn, comes out of Jazz. In fact, there are myriad reasons and answers as to why there are a disproportionate number of Jazz education programs throughout the world as opposed to, say, titled Blues education programs or otherwise.
I haven’t answered the question fully for myself yet, so I’ll spare you the fragments I’ve put together. A bit of the bounty from simply asking the question though, is found on these two recordings.
Any serious look at the bond between Jazz and education would be remiss in excluding or simply failing to include the first album here: The Dave Brubeck Quartet – Jazz at Oberlin. Recorded in 1953, at Oberlin College in Ohio. The album is marked by published analysis as one of the seminal moments in time when Jazz began to be taken seriously in academic circles and as a modern academic subject (though many schools of Jazz existed before it did.) From what I’ve read, this has everything to do with this particular concert being the first of a kind. What kind? You ask. A shockingly well received Jazz concert held on a university campus. That’s what kind.
It is of particular interest to me for another, less formal reason. As I’ve always been drawn to the evolution of any particular musician or group, the comparison of Jazz at Oberlin to the second album included: At Carniege Hall yields an awesome demonstration of the evolution of this important Jazz ensemble.
On Jazz at Oberlin, the quartet is young and about to develop in a way that only the ambition which comes with being a young band can induce. The set is a comprised of Jazz standards performed with fiery improvisation, virtuosic talent, and passion. Brubeck and Paul Desmond are, in fact, so talented that they completely make the songs their own while somehow remaining true to the form. The songs, as performed, almost defy being simulacra, in that they are reinvented to such a point that only a great deal of respect for the standards on the part of the band itself keeps their original titles from dissolving on the setlist.
At Carniege Hall, is mostly Brubeck Quartet originals, with only three of the twelve tracks not penned by the band itself. Ten years can do a good deal to anything, but what it did to this Quartet is unavoidable the moment you put the record on. The abandon so obvious in Jazz at Oberlin has transformed into a refinement that can only come with the creation of an original style. They’ve learned to control their talents in order to focus on the overall experience. The immediacy of youth giving way to the “bigger picture,” which can come with maturity. I realize this happens often in music and, in art more generally, but I’ve not found a more obvious example of it.

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