On March 12, Albany Records gave UNCG music professor John Salmon the great news: his new “John Salmon plays Brubeck” CD was produced and would be released this spring. That evening, a call came with sad news: Dave Brubeck’s widow, Iola, had died.
The new release is a particularly personal recording for Salmon. He and jazz legend Dave Brubeck, who died a year ago, had been good friends. As he told Campus Weekly earlier, “My relationship with Dave has influenced me in lots of personal and musical ways,” he explains. Brubeck was self-effacing, generous, open-minded. “It was his humanity that impressed us all.”
Salmon has edited about eight volumes of Brubeck’s scores, and this new CD is his fourth of Brubeck’s classical-leaning compositions. Salmon wants the world to value not only Brubeck’s jazz musicianship, but his classical works for piano as well.
This CD is part of that effort.
“I began it in 2010, at Dave Brubeck’s request. He wanted me to come up with a piano version of the orchestral piece co-composed by him and his son Chris Brubeck, ‘Ansel Adams: America.’”
Salmon saw one performance, with an orchestra, in Baltimore in 2010. His version is quite different. “My piano version was based both on Dave’s original drafts and the finished orchestral score – largely orchestrated by Chris Brubeck,” he notes. He was ready to move forward with releasing it that year but was told he should wait till the orchestral version had come out.
“So I waited.”
Dave Brubeck died December 5, 2012 – the same day the Brubeck family learned that “Ansel Adams: America” had been nominated for a 2013 Grammy. It had been performed by the Temple University Orchestra.
Brubeck’s wife of more than 70 years, Iola, and the family requested Salmon play at the memorial service. Many jazz luminaries were there to play in tribute to Brubeck, at New York City’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Two, Chick Corea and John Salmon, were asked to perform solo.
That weekend Salmon discussed with Chris Brubeck and the Brubecks’ lawyer the possibility of releasing the piano CD.
They knew Dave Brubeck would want it to be released, Salmon explains. They gave him the green light.
Iola Brubeck’s health began to decline. She had always been generous, upbeat. She was very creative as well – for example, she penned the lyrics to many of her husband’s songs, including the classic “In Your Own Sweet Way.” For seven decades, Iola and Dave had been completely devoted to each other. Now, she had cancer.
Salmon had put Brubeck’s tender ballad “All My Love” on this CD. “It was dedicated to Iola.”
He recalls visiting Dave Brubeck and Iola at their home – the last time he saw the then-frail jazz legend and one of the last times he saw Iola. “Iola was with us every moment,” he recalls. Salmon played for them, as Dave Brubeck made request after another. It was a lovely visit. Dave thanked him as he prepared to leave. “No, thank you, Dave, for your life and for having given us this beautiful music.”
They had identical parting words in their last phone call, just before Brubeck died.
Salmon chose for his final cut on the new CD a Chopinesque work titled “Dziękuję.”
“That means ‘thank you’ in Polish.”
By Mike Harris
Read earlier CW piece on John Salmon and Dave Brubeck.