Two musical worlds will happily collide when Jazz at the Lake musicians perform with the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra on the shores of Sylvan Lake next weekend.
The combined orchestras will play In Your Own Sweet Way and other tunes by legendary jazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck and his wife, Iola, on Aug. 15, at a fundraising concert at Centennial Park.
Performing from the jazz side of the mix will be the Brubecks’ son, renowned drummer Dan Brubeck, now based in Washington State. He will bring a couple of members of his West Coast quartet — pianist Tony Foster and vocalist/bassist Adam Thomas. This trio will be joined on stage by acclaimed Central Alberta-based jazz crooner Cheryl Fisher and saxophonist Eric Allison, who organize the annual Jazz at the Lake festival.
From the classical side of the spectrum will come 30 musicians from the RDSO, conducted by music director Claude Lapalme. While more used to playing Bach than Brubeck, the RDSO musicians are excited to join the jazz players in performing tunes written by Dan’s celebrated parents.
The late Dave and Iola created beautiful music together and helped shape modern jazz during their 70-year personal and professional partnership.
Dan’s father, who died in 2012, is considered one of the foremost proponents of cool jazz, creating Take Five, I’m In a Dancing Mood, The Duke and other songs that have become classics. Some of his fans might not realize there are words for many compositions that are better known as instrumentals, said Dan.
While the melodies were created by Dan’s father, the lyrics were often penned by his mother, Iola, who was an exceptional person in her own right.
Dave Brubeck met Iola Whitlock at the College of the Pacific in California. She was an aspiring actress who later became an educator, radio producer and writer, and also served as her husband’s business manager throughout his long career.
Dan remembers his mom writing lyrical poetry that could inspire his father to write a song.
She also helped her husband’s popularity explode among young audiences by suggesting he do a tour of music colleges. Dan said this idea was later picked up by the Grateful Dead and helped that rock band build a fanatical following.
Over the years, Iola, who died at age 90 in 2014, became Dave’s chief librettist and lyricist, collaborating on a dozen sacred choral compositions, a jazz opera, and almost three dozen songs performed by her husband and others.
Dan believes his parents’ partnership centred on “a real respect for each other, and each other’s opinions.” Hearing their music from the 1950s performed with orchestration in such a lovely setting will be like a Technicolour experience, he admitted, with a chuckle.
Some collaborative songs on the concert bill are Weep No More, It’s a Raggy Waltz, Strange Meadowlark, Summer Song, Travelin’ Blues and, of course, In Your Own Sweet Way.
Dan’s quartet recently put out a recording of his parents’ songs as a legacy project. He was thrilled when the CD received a four-star review from DownBeat Magazine. “It’s the jazz bible. I feel very fortunate,” he added.
The drummer is happy to be performing with colleagues Allison and Fisher, whom he has known through past performances at the Jazz at the Lake festival.
In its debut Sylvan Lake concert, the RDSO will also be performing an original composition by Fisher, arranged by Lapalme.
Although Dan Brubeck has performed jazz concerts with other classical orchestras, this is the first time he will share the stage with the RDSO, and looks forward to it.
Lapalme said the orchestra has long waited to work with the Jazz at the Lake folks.
The classical and jazz worlds have developed a mutual appreciation. Classical musicians admire sophisticated jazz harmonies, and the fact that jazz players can do what most classical orchestra musicians can’t — improvise, said Lapalme.
“When they start playing, we just sit back and look at them and go, how do they do that? It’s a great thrill.”
Whether or not audience members are familiar with Dave Brubeck’s music, Lapalme feels it will be a magical listening experience on the shores of Sylvan Lake.
Tickets for the concert, which benefits both the RDSO and Jazz at the Lake, are available through the RDSO office. They are $125 per person (including dinner and a drink). Gates open at 6:30 p.m. The concert starts at 8 p.m.