As can be seen from
the heading the majority of these Nocturnes
are short, a couple of them under one
minute. As pianist John Salmon writes
in his liner-notes these are: ‘small,
lyrical pieces that can be played by
children and savoured by adults.’ The
score was published in 1997 and includes
24 pieces. Mr. Fats and I
Still Am in Love With a Girl Named Oli
are not nocturnes but included here
to give a change of character. They
are what could be termed "happy
jazz", swinging songs you can’t
help tapping your foot to. The titles
of the pieces are often mood-evocative
or give a hint of some person or event
that triggered Brubeck’s inspiration.
‘Sometimes my pieces are like postcards’,
he writes in his notes and goes
some way to explain backgrounds that
are not always possible to hear in the
music. I See, Satie is a nod
in the direction of the French composer
Erik Satie who, when he was criticized
for lack of form, wrote a piece in the
shape of a pear. This is exactly what
Brubeck has done: when seeing the printed
music one notices that the notes form
a pear shape in the last three measures.
There are other similar visual gimmicks.
Some of the pieces
carry direct allusions to his family
life. I Still Am in Love With a Girl
Named Oli was written to his wife
after six decades of marriage. Joshua
Redman was written as a homage to
the saxophonist, who recorded this piece
with Brubeck in 1995 and Audrey
is Audrey Hepburn. I won’t tire you
with more background information, only
urge you to get the disc and read the
notes: well-written and personal.
The music spans from
swinging jazz to an impressionism not
far removed from Debussy. Dave Brubeck
studied, as is well known, with French
composer Darius Milhaud so a certain
affinity with the French is natural.
Milhaud also encouraged Brubeck to include
jazz elements in his serious compositions.
Some comments on pieces
that caught my interest when listening
the first time: the impressionist is
heard in Looking at a Rainbow
but this is no mere imitation; it has
a personal Brubeckian twist. Nostalgia
de México is short, simple
but catchy. Strange Meadowlark is
a song, one of Brubeck’s most performed
compositions and can also be heard on
Naxos in its vocal shape (www.musicweb-international.com/classrev/2005/Apr05/Brubeck_songs_8559220.htm).
Recuerdo has some jazzy syncopation
but also Brubeck’s typical mixing of
time-signatures and the thick chords
we remember from his jazz recordings.
Softly, William, Softly was intended
as an aria from a never-completed opera.
It’s a nice piece with something of
the air of the late night piano bar.
The Desert and the Parched Land
became a special favourite and so did
Memories of a Viennese Park,
which is a kind of homage to the Viennese
Waltz. Last but definitely not least
I must mention the two non-nocturnes:
the swinging declaration of love to
his Oli and the boogie-woogie tribute
to Fats Waller. ‘The first record I
ever purchased in my life was a Fats
Waller recording’, Brubeck remembers
in his notes.
John Salmon is an ideal
interpreter of this music and being
equally at home in both classical music
and jazz he can choose to play the music
as written or occasionally introducing
The recording is excellent.
The music may not be of the barnstorming
kind that changes the world but the
whole disc is a valuable document of
one of the most versatile of American