The Brubeck Brothers Quartet — playing Friday and Saturday at The Smith Center’s Cabaret Jazz — “very consciously tried,” in bassist and trombonist Chris Brubeck’s words, to “do music that wasn’t Dave’s music.”
Dave, of course, being jazz giant Dave Brubeck, the father of Chris and his brother Dan, the quartet’s drummer.
They and the quartet’s “honorary brothers” — guitarist Mike DeMicco and pianist Chuck Lamb — didn’t want “people to think of us as a ghost band,” Chris says in a telephone interview.
But when it came time for them to plan their next album, something changed their minds.
“We knew Dave was getting older and not going to be with us forever,” he says. “And we thought, ‘We want to make sure he gets how much we love his music.’ ”
Dave Brubeck died Dec. 5, 2012 — a day before his 92nd birthday.
But he lived long enough to hear the quartet’s interpretations of such classics as “Take Five” (the original Dave Brubeck Quartet theme song, written by saxophonist Paul Desmond) and “Kathy’s Waltz,” written for Chris and Dan’s sister, featured on their album “LifeTimes.”
And what was their father’s reaction to their revamped versions of his trademark songs?
“He just had a great big (expletive)-eating grin on his face,” Chris says.
Other listeners had a similar reaction; “LifeTimes” wound up as the seventh most-played recording on jazz radio in 2012 and made numerous 10-best lists.
“It got us a ton of airplay — and a ton of recognition,” Dan notes in a separate telephone interview.
And this weekend, Cabaret Jazz audiences will have the chance to experience the quartet’s “different take on a lot of Dave’s popular stuff,” he says, plus other tunes “people hadn’t heard that, for us, had meaning.”
An example of the latter: “The Jazzanians,” which “came off a Trio Brubeck record” Dan produced in 1993 — and was written to honor the multiracial South African student band led by eldest Brubeck brother Darius. (Chris and Dan Brubeck previously played with their father and their brother Darius in Two Generations of Brubeck and the New Brubeck Quartet.)
Because the Brubeck Brothers Quartet features DeMicco on guitar rather than Desmond on sax, even the most familiar Brubeck songs have a fresh sound.
On “Kathy’s Waltz,” for example, “we ended up screwing around with it,” Chris Brubeck says, adding “a kind of reggae influence” that “didn’t even exist” when his father’s quartet recorded the tune in 1959. “But as a musical language for us, that made sense.”
Similarly, the quartet’s “Take Five” sports a “second-line groove” straight out of New Orleans — an element you might hear on a Dr. John or Neville Brothers’ tune,” Chris says.
That sort of musical gumbo reflects their father’s interest in, and promotion of, what we now know as “world music,” reflecting influences from Turkey (“Blue Rondo a la Turk,” featured in the movie “Wedding Crashers”), India (“Unsquare Dance,” which turned up on both the “Silver Linings Playbook” and “Blind Side” soundtracks) and points between.
“All those different cultures bled into his music — he was always very curious about other music,” Dan says. “Starting with classical, he tried to assimilate things into his music.”
Given their DNA, it’s hardly surprising that the Dan and Chris (along with pianist Darius and another brother, cellist Matthew) decided to make music their livelihoods.
Yet the urge to make music “didn’t come from the top down,” Dan says, noting how he “had the joy” of listening in on his father’s rehearsals with his musical colleagues — who sometimes “would jam with us” between rehearsals.
“Everyone in our family just felt happy to be into it — we had encouragement, but not pressure,” Chris says. “I think there was some kind of karma. It’s not just an accident that our little souls” were able to take advantage of “the opportunity to make so much music together.”
And “the thing I learned the most,” Chris adds, “is that there is a magical chemistry that can happen between you and the audience.”
Both Brubeck brothers saw it countless times watching their father, who “used to be very scared” appearing in public — so scared “he could hardly announce the names of the guys in the group,” Chris says. Six decades later, Dave Brubeck was so comfortable in front of audiences he would easily launch into folksy “Will Rogers mode.”
Dave Brubeck may be gone. But the quartet’s experiences playing his music at jazz festivals from coast to coast have convinced Dan that “there is a lot of truth in the old saying that someone’s spirit lives on through their music. It turned out to be very true — and really nice to keep his spirit alive.”
What’s more, “we’re having a lot of fun doing it,” he says. “It’s kind of ironic — because we were trying very hard not to play Dave’s music.”
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.