By F. L. Archer
Amidst the flood of motocross events and mixed martial arts matches, there’s a dose of subtlety that seems to have escaped the largely edgy entertainment offerings in the Inland Empire. And let’s face it, the region’s not usually the first place that comes to mind when the descriptors “sophisticated” and “artistic” are dropped in the same sentence.
But via the burgeoning local arts communities that receive support of varying degrees, there seems to be a tweaking in the modus operandi of providing bigger, faster, louder. And educating the area about a game changer in the jazz music circuit can only help to add variance and balance to the established options.
Enter “The Times of Dave Brubeck,” the latest installation at the Museum of History and Art, Ontario. It’s a multimedia overview of one of the genre’s most popular performers, who has done more than just tickle a few of the eighty-eight ivories throughout his immense career. The exhibit’s timing is acute, as it opened four days before Brubeck’s 90th birthday (Dec. 6), celebrating the musician who’s been designated a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress.
Step inside and you’re immediately exposed to the sounds of some of the most recognizable works from Brubeck’s famed period of the 1950s and 1960s; tracks like “Blue Rondo a la Turk” and “Take Five” can be heard wafting in the background while terrific imagery of the pianist and his famous Quartet are on display. In fact, it’s the latter song from Brubeck’s platinum-selling Time Out album of 1959 that landed him the honors of releasing the best selling jazz single in history.
Coordinated by the staff of the University of the Pacific’s Holt-Atherton Special Collections, part of the exhibit’s education is getting visitors to really understand Brubeck’s compositions. The museum encourages visitor participation by asking them to rate Brubeck’s various tunes in accordance to the moods created by each song.
The education extends to lessons on the rhythmic nature of Brubeck’s material. At one display, there’s a tambourine and a set of drumsticks to tap along with the songs performed in odd time signatures. By playing with these unconventional meters, both musically-inclined and -challenged visitors are able to delve deeper behind the construction of his works. And because jazz music is so heavily based on the feel and drive of swing-based rhythms, such an installation makes much sense, slotting Brubeck’s significance into a more compelling context.
However, Brubeck isn’t just lauded as a great jazz musician, but as someone who championed the cause of civil rights. The ’50s-era Quartet featured both black and white musicians, and when certain show promoters did not want black musicians on their stages, Brubeck responded by pulling the plug on these bookings. This story is presented with formidable depth in the museum.
The Brubeck exhibit also includes information about the variety of visual artists and their creations that adorn his albums, each of which was almost as visually interesting as it was audibly. As an added bonus, the museum will be hosting live performances by the Riverside Community College and Cal State San Bernardino jazz combos on Fri., Jan. 22 at 6 p.m.
The museum also features a pair of permanent exhibits covering local history and admission is free. Though it may not be as all-encompassing or crammed with the amounts of memorabilia some may anticipate, it’s a terrific primer for a simple yet thorough education through the eyes of a profound jazz musician. Overstimulating entertainment, this isn’t. But music fans seeking a dose of subtlety and distinctive artistry can find plenty to be entertained and educated about here.
“The Times of Dave Brubeck” at the Museum of History and Art, Ontario, 225 S. Euclid Ave., Ontario, (909) 395-2510; www.ci.ontario.ca.us/index.cfm/1605. Open Thurs-Sun, 12PM-4PM. Thru Jan. 23.