Drum Corps International
Blue Rondo ?? la Drum Corps

Blue Rondo ?? la Drum Corps

by Michael Boo

On Dec. 5, a giant in the jazz world left us. Dave Brubeck, 91, passed away just a day before his birthday. While his most popular works were written in the two decades before Drum Corps International's founding, two of his compositions, "Unsquare Dance" and "Blue Rondo à la Turk," enjoyed success with a large number of DCI corps. In 1959, three years before Stan Kenton's "Adventures in Time" album and seven years before the Don Ellis Orchestra hit the big time at the Monterey Jazz Festival, The Dave Brubeck Quartet's "Time Out" album focused on unusual time signatures and became the first jazz album to be certified platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America. This is the album that introduced "Blue Rondo à la Turk" and "Take Five," the latter written by quartet alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Brubeck's "Blue Rondo à la Turk" was inspired by watching Turkish street musicians perform in meters common to their culture, but rare in American music. The piece, mostly based on a rhythm of 2+2+2+3, has shown up in the 1982 shows of both 27th Lancers and Spirit of Atlanta, and also contributed to Blue Devils' "The Phenomenon of Cool" and Crossmen's "Color," both from 2003. (Crossmen's show also featured Brubeck's "Koto Song.")

27th Lancers perform "Blue Rondo à la Turk" in 1982.
Among the several corps that featured "Take Five" are the 1979 27th Lancers, 1988 Bluecoats, 2003 Blue Devils and most recently 7th Regiment in 2011.

A 1966 performance of "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.
Brubeck wrote "Unsquare Dance" in 1961 in 7/4 time for his album, "Time Further Out." Clapping hands were an integral feature of the rhythm. Blue Devils, Jersey Surf and Troopers are among the corps that played the piece in the last decade. The following video clip offers a rare glimpse at a delightful dance that was produced shortly after the work premiered.

Dave Brubeck's "Unsquare Dance."
Often, great musicians are unfortunately known to be aloof, troubled and somewhat unfriendly. Brubeck was always known to be contrary to that. He was a deeply religious man who wrote liturgical music, a family man of great integrity who was married to the same woman for 70 years. He was never known to be involved with the vices that took down many other talented masters, and he was passionately dedicated to justice; his ensembles were integrated at a time when segregation was the cultural norm. After performing overseas with no problems, he was deeply troubled that the black members of his group were not allowed into some restaurants back home. Despite drum corps having not yet discovered much of his output and focusing in the past on less than a handful of his works, Dave Brubeck's contributions to drum corps are remembered for an enthusiasm and musical honesty that made fans in the stands clap along, tap their feet and smile. While it's hoped that corps will once again discover his music, his presence in the American musical scene will be missed. Related content: Drum Corps Play Kenton Adagio for Drum Corps
Michael Boo was a member of the Cavaliers from 1975-1977. He has written about the drum corps activity for more than a quarter century and serves as a staff writer for various Drum Corps International projects. Boo has written for numerous other publications and has published an honors-winning book on the history of figure skating. As an accomplished composer, Boo holds a bachelor's degree in music education and a master's degree in music theory and composition. He resides in Chesterton, Ind.

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