Valentia Island is the spectacular setting for a festival of chamber music this weekend that brings musicians from far flung destinations.
For the sixth season, director Mary Dullea, pianist of the Fidelio Trio, dedicates the opening day to the piano and expands the compass to include the festival’s first jazz gig. Darius Brubeck comes to Valentia to perform some of the hits of his late father, Dave and his own compositions.
On the phone from his home in Sussex, Darius recalled his impromptu debut as a ten-year old when he accompanied his father on a legendary tour of Poland in 1958. The Dave Brubeck Quartet was the first modern jazz group to go behind the Iron Curtain, a symbolic event that marked a significant moment in Poland’s history.
“The promoters were excited that Dave Brubeck had brought his family. That was such a gesture of friendship and trust during the height of the Cold War. The promoter pushed myself and my brother Mike onto the stage on the first night. Dave started to play ‘Take The A Train’ and I started to improvise with a few little phrases. He said, ‘Play the melody stupid’. Szczechin was right on the German border and the headline in the newspaper read ‘Spiel der melodie dummkopf.’ That became the famous tag line for the tour.”
In 2018, Darius returned to Poland with his own quartet to retrace the stops on the original tour and recalls being moved by the warmth of the reception when they played to packed venues in six cities.
Brubeck and his wife Cathy are writing a memoir of their two decades in South Africa. “We’re calling it Playing the Changes.”
As an academic and performer during an era that saw the release of Mandela and the ending of apartheid, Darius was again well placed to witness first-hand the interaction of culture and politics.
Since retiring from academia and moving to the UK, Darius (named after one of his father’s mentors, French composer Darius Milhaud) has had more time to devote to composition and his pieces have proved popular with students all over the world following their inclusion on piano exam syllabi.
Brubeck arranged his piece ‘Tugela Rail’ for the Fidelio Trio. ‘For Lydia’ was written for Brubeck’s granddaughter when she was 12.
“My granddaughter happened to be visiting when I was on the guest list of the annual awards ceremony of the All-Party Parliamentary Jazz Appreciation Group at Westminster. Every time I introduced my granddaughter, somebody would say ‘Ah- this is Lydia.’
In Valentia, Brubeck will be joined by Fidelio Trio violinist, Darragh Morgan for part of his set.
Although we associate modern jazz with brass and reeds, violin as a featured soloist was not unusual, Brubeck says, before the rise of the big band. He namechecks popular jazz violinists of the 1930s, Eddie South, Grappelli and Gus Smith.
Brubeck first met Morgan and Dullea in Durban. Dullea, from Bandon, Co Cork, was a colleague at the University of KwaZulu–Natal and, Brubeck recalls, one of the most popular teachers at the music department. Morgan was leader of the Philharmonic Orchestra.
Valentia Island, the historic site of the eastern terminus of the first trans-Atlantic telegraph cable, seems like a good place for an American- Irish collaboration.
Darius Brubeck appears at Chamber Music On Valentia tomorrow. The festival runs until Sunday. chambermusiconvalentia.com. The Darius Brubeck Quartet headlines the Limerick Jazz Festival on September 27
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