Family Ties Bring Brubeck Back to Palomar College

In the entertainment world, it helps to have inside connections. Retired Palomar College humanities dean Howard Brubeck is jazz pianist Dave Brubeck’s older brother. He has helped bring Dave Brubeck to Palomar for concerts dating back to the 1950s. Friday night at 8, Brubeck will play his fifth Palomar date, a fund-raiser in the campus theater for the Palomar College Foundation. Howard Brubeck is a member of the foundation’s board.

Since he appeared at Palomar last fall, Brubeck has been busy. “New Wine,” released earlier this year, features his quartet and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, playing Brubeck’s original music. Two new releases are due soon: “Quiet as the Moon,” consisting of music Brubeck wrote for a “Peanuts” cartoon television special will appear next month, and “Once When I Was Very Young,” music Brubeck put to a poem by his son, Michael, is due out early next year.

Brubeck is best known for his 1950s and ‘60s recordings, including the 1962 hit “Take Five,” with its then-exotic 5/4 time signature. His legacy isn’t the hard-swinging be-bop of his early peers. Instead, Brubeck blends jazz with classical influences that date back to his childhood musical training and his 1940s studies with classical composer Darius Milhaud.

He plays Palomar with his longtime band mates: clarinetist Bill Smith, bassist Jack Six and drummer Randy Jones.


The Palomar College Foundation hopes this Friday’s 8 p.m. performance will raise $15,000 to $20,000. The $75 tickets give you prime seats and admission to a reception for Brubeck after his show. Other seats are $50 and $40.

San Diegan Benny Lagasse has fond memories of saxophonist Charlie Barnet, 77, who died last Wednesday at Hillside Hospital in San Diego.

Barnet’s were among the best big bands of the 1940s, and Lagasse played clarinet with him in 1941 and 1942.

“He was playing a stage engagement at the Strand Theatre in New York, and I got a call from a friend who said Charlie’s alto man had been drafted,” Lagasse said. “I rushed down and joined the band on stage, and Charlie and I eventually became good friends.”


During the 1940s, Barnet’s Big Bands were as hot as Artie Shaw’s and Benny Goodman’s, Lagasse recalled, with Barnet playing alto, tenor and soprano saxes and clarinet, and doing some arranging.

Barnet also had a knack for hiring the best outside arrangers according to Vista jazz writer Stanley Dance, who co-authored Barnet’s 1985 autobiography, “Those Swinging Years.” Among them: Juan Tizol, Andy Gibson, Billy May, Benny Carter, Horace Henderson (Fletcher’s brother), Bill Holman and Ralph Burns.

Barnet’s signature songs included “Cherokee,” “Tappin’ at the Tappa,” “Skyliner” and the Ellington-esque “Lazy Bug.” “That was very much like Ellington,” Dance said. “There were two plunger trumpets, with Charlie playing over the top like Johnny Hodges. When Billy May heard this coming from a white band, he went to see Charlie and joined the band, and many hits followed.”

Although Lagasse was only with Barnet’s band for a relatively short time, he played on several recordings--in those days, the dominant medium was the 78 record, and bands such as Barnet’s turned out several “sides” each year, some of which have resurfaced on CD.


Lagasse remembers Barnet as an extremely classy guy known for his decent treatment of musicians.

“We used to travel by train instead of bus,” Lagasse said. “He’d take a whole Pullman car. His father was vice president of the New York Central Railroad, so Charlie never had a money problem. He could pay good musicians, and the good musicians liked to work for Charlie because of the style of music we played. This was the swing band era, and the other bands played little ballads and stuff. We would play some pretty things, but they all had a beat.”

Composer, trumpeter and pianist Neal Hefti and vibraphonist Red Norvo were among the musicians who came up through Barnet’s bands. Barnet was one of the first white Big Band leaders to employ black musicians, including singer Lena Horne and trumpeters Peanuts Holland, Clark Terry, Dizzy Gillespie and Roy Eldridge.

“It deserves emphasis because Benny Goodman always got the credit for breaking the barriers, but Charlie Barnet had done it, not with the thought of breaking down racial barriers but to have the best musicians,” author Dance said.


“Right from the beginning his music was fairly distinct. He showed perhaps a greater awareness of what the black bands were doing--his big influence was Duke Ellington and, in particular, Johnny Hodges, Ellington’s star soloist.

“I spoke to Charlie about three weeks ago, and the only thing he was worried about was he couldn’t drive the car anymore,” Dance said. “During summer, he liked to go to the races in Del Mar every day.”

Lagasse moved to San Diego in 1953 and didn’t see much of Barnet until they renewed their friendship during the early 1960s.

“I kept a boat called The Maestro at the Kona Kai Club,” Lagasse recalled, “and one afternoon, there was a knock on the side of the boat, and it was Charlie, he had decided to move his boat down to San Diego from Los Angeles.”


No services are planned for Barnet, who is survived by his wife, Betty, of Point Loma and Palm Springs, and son, Charles Jr. of Los Angeles.


Music was a moonlighting proposition for saxophonist Spike Robinson until he quit his engineering job in 1985 and became a full-time jazz man. Since then, Robinson has distinguished himself with a prodigious output of recordings, most of them on the small Denver-based Capri label, not far from Robinson’s home in Boulder. One of the best of these is “Henry B Meets Alvin G,” a loose, upbeat 1987 collaboration between Robinson and veteran saxman Al Cohn. Robinson plays the Horton Grand Hotel in downtown San Diego Friday and Saturday nights in the company of San Diego flutist Holly Hofmann and British pianist Brian Dee. Music starts at 8:30.