Today is Dave Brubeck's 90th birthday. At 5 p.m. (EST), Turner Classic Movies will broadcast In His Own Sweet Way, a new documentary on Dave's life and music directed by Bruce Ricker and produced by Clint Eastwood. It is a valentine to the pianist and composer whose music continues to wow listeners. [Photo of Dave Brubeck at home, courtesy of Beverley D. Thorne]
Following my Wall Street Journal interview last month with Dave at his Connecticut home, many readers wrote in asking for more information about his unusual house. So I reached out to the home's architect, Beverley D. Thorne.
Bev [pictured] is one of the last surviving Case Study Houses architects. A friend of Dave and Iola Brubeck since 1949, he designed their home near Oakland in the early '50s—a post-modern residence perched atop a rock mass that was made famous in photos that accompanied a Time cover story on Dave in 1954.
When the Brubecks sold their home to move East in 1960, they again turned to Bev to build a residence in Connecticut. From the front (the facade that faces the road), the structure looks like an unassuming Japanese ranch house. But once inside, you see it's not a ranch house at all but a split-level abode built into a hill. You also notice that the back facade of the home is nearly all glass. These massive windows allow for a panoramic view of the trees, hills, rocks, a lily pond and a rushing stream that runs along side of the house. The sound of the waterway permeates the glass and creates enormous tranquility. Frankly, it's Christmas in Connecticut meets The Fountainhead. [Pictured: Interior of the Brubecks' home from the second-story catwalk, courtesy of Bev Thorne]
Dave told me that Bev often slept outdoors on the property in a sleeping bag while designing the house to chart where the sun emerged in the sky each day so he could best position the structure for maximum sun exposure during season changes. You don't realize how much Dave adores the sun until you see him bathed in it. Only then do you see that this piano wizard of dark clubs and college-campus stages is really a California raisin at heart. [Pictured: Exterior gardens of the Brubecks' home, courtesy of Bev Thorne]
Here's Bev's note to me on what he still fondly refers to as "Brubeck East":
"While I was designing the Brubecks' home in Connecticut, I worked in the basement of the farmhouse Dave and Iola were renting. Many times I would work very late or even all night. The large window above my desk would attract all manner of bugs from the local area, since my drafting-table light was the only one within miles.
"It used to scare the hell out of me when the big bugs banged into the screen on the window. However, their clatter did tend to wake one if there was a tendency to doze off for a few minutes.
"The boulder you wrote in your Wall Street Journal article about is indeed granite, at least to the best of my geologic knowledge. This is one reason I spent so much time at the building site in Connecticut. The stream and the boulders were an integral part of my design composition. [Pictured: View from the Brubecks' house facing the boulders and stream, courtesy of Bev Thorne]
"As you most likely noticed, the entrance to the Brubecks' home sits on a large boulder outcrop that emanates from the natural ground. I wanted to continue this rock theme that was started on the Brubeck West house. [Pictured: Bev Thorne with Iola Brubeck]
"As you recall from our earlier conversation, at the very top of their West Coast home [pictured] was an outcropping of rock inside their home that rested about three feet above the floor. This is the rock that we notched and installed a 3/4" thick sheet of glass in order to make a table for Dave to use for writing music. To continue the theme out West, we used a large boulder as the counter balance for the cantilevered carport's wide flange beam.
"For the East Coast home, I also allowed an outcropping of granite to emerge into their living room, forming a garden.
"I do hope you found Dave and Iola as regular and unassuming as I had mentioned to you. They have always been very family focused and down to earth. Even with all of Dave's fame, I don't believe they have changed very much. [Pictured: View of the Brubecks' living room, courtesy of Bev Thorne]
"To emphasize this point I would like to relate a simple short tale to you:
"When Dave was just beginning to get some notoriety in California, he was playing at the Black Hawk in San Francisco, I believe. We used to meet near the club on his breaks to talk about the house I was designing for him and Iola.
"One evening Dave and I were working on the plans during an intermission. Naturally, a long line had formed outside trying to get into the club to hear this new jazz pianist sensation.
"Well, when it became time for Dave and the group to return to the stage, Dave was nowhere to be found. Then one of the waiters saw Dave and me standing in line waiting to get into the club with everyone else.
"The comment from the waiter, who stepped outside, to Dave was priceless: 'Mr. Brubeck, you really don't need to stand in line to get back to the stage.' Three cheers for that!
"PS: Dave's story about the soup bones in your Wall Street Journal article is true. My wife and Dave's wife used to go shopping together for groceries at the "dented food-can center" down in Berkeley, where prices were reduced to an absolute minimum." [Pictured: Dave playing on his favorite concert grand, accompanied by his son Matthew on cello in lower left-hand corner, courtesy of Bev Thorne]
JazzWax clip: What would Dave's birthday be like without hearing The Duke, a graceful melody Dave wrote in the early '50s while listening to his car's windshield wipers after dropping off his son Chris at nursery school. Marian McPartland has called the song's bass line one of the best ever written...