Dave Brubeck On Fighting Communism with Jazz

If I told you all the stories about what happened to people if they were caught listening to jazz.

John Dankosky

Interview by

August 2008, Litchfield Jazz Festival
Digital recorder

Longer piece aired on "Where We Live" WNPR



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[Music: Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” live at the 2008 Litchfield Jazz Festival]

David Gerlach: “Take Five” by jazz legend Dave Brubeck. He’s performing live here in 2008 at age 87.  Eighty-seven. Just amazing. And at this point Brubeck’s career he had already criss-crossed six decades of playing, yet he was showing no signs of slowing down.

Dave Brubeck: My energy’s still there. And I think my love of family, of my country, of jazz, of playing will make me put up with all the crap. (Crowd laughs and cheers)

David Gerlach: What we’re hearing is an interview Brubeck gave on stage during the Litchfield Jazz Festival. He’s speaking with John Dankosky, the host of Where We Live, a show that airs on WNPR in Connecticut. Anyway, it’s just an amazing conversation and when I heard it, I dropped John a note and asked if we could bring it to listeners of Blank on Blank, in particular this remarkable story Brubeck told about fighting communism with jazz. So here it is. Dave Brubeck remixed. This is Blank on Blank.

John Dankosky: Dave Brubeck, it’s been 50 years this year since your tour behind the Iron Curtain, and I’m wondering if you could reminisce a little bit about that time in which you played in front of audiences that had not previously experienced American music, at least not for a number of years, and what that was like for you because it was a remarkable, groundbreaking thing.

Dave Brubeck: President Eisenhower wanted jazz to go out into the world and especially along the Russian border.

[Sound clip: “Communism, according to all its own leaders, must be a system of international control and conformity.”]

Dave Brubeck: Our tour started for the State Department in Poland, which was communistic. You can’t believe how well we were received.

[Music: Polish communist anthem]

Dave Brubeck: They wrote about things like that we were from heaven, sent to them, can you imagine?

[Anthem ends. Jazz music begins.]

Dave Brubeck: We played 12 concerts in Poland. Underground meetings and underground concerts. The last night they threw a party for us and the president of the underground club wanted to give a toast and he stood up and said, “You’re going home tomorrow. I want you to know how we Poles love freedom as much as you Americans, and thank you for coming.”  So what we did, we didn’t understand how we could be that important. We had no clue that we were helping people break away from Communism.

Eventually we went to Russia three times, but twice our ambassador called me and he said, “Dave, don’t come. If you come, the Secret Police are going to have a table at the door and everyone who comes in, their identification card will be taken. They will never get an education; they will never get a government job or a good job.  I don’t think you want to come because some people are going to come and lose everything just because they want to see you.” Can you understand how that is?

David Gerlach: That’s jazz legend Dave Brubeck on Jazz Diplomacy behind the Iron Curtain. Many thanks to John Dankosky, the host of Where We Live. He’s also the news director there at Connecticut’s WNPR. CPBN.org. I also want to thank Amy Drozdowska for producing this Blank on Blank with me. Our sound logo comes to us from Jeffrey Alan Jones. And for all the journalists, interviewers, non-fiction authors and documentary filmmakers out there:  we want to hear your lost interviews, your unheard interviews. So drop us a line at interviews@blankonblank.org. Blank on Blank is presented by the Public Radio Exchange, PRX.org.  That’s all for now. I’m David Gerlach. Keep listening.

Music: Dave Brubeck live at the 2008 Litchfield Jazz Festival
Photo: C.J. Peters via Flickr