Noel Freiderline, leader of Jazz on Main at Columbia Museum of Art, is a pianist, composer and arranger, a gifted raconteur with an infectious laugh and an educator. Occasionally he is a vocalist.
He also is a tease.
And Friday evening (November 19) when he led his quartet through paces of Dave Brubeck hits, his teasing could be blamed entirely on Brubeck’s musical influence.
Brubeck, the iconic 20th century jazz pianist and quartet leader who continued performing until shortly before his death in 2012, oftentimes teased his audiences. Brubeck made playing a certain song a game of Keep Away; he would hold out, not play his most in-demand composition, “Take Five,” until the very end of a concert. Late in his life, the performer, prolific composer and recording artist was known to feign forgetting to include it.
Freiderline told the story of how a woman on the front row of a Brubeck concert rose from her seat and yelled out, “I came to hear ‘Take Five,’ and I’m not leaving until I hear ‘Take Five.’” Brubeck maneuvered musically out of “Honeysuckle Rose,” on which he’d been tinkling on the ivories, and went immediately into the command performance. Freiderline closed out his first set with the most recognizable, most popular of all Brubeck’s compositions. And saved the teasing for the end of the show.
Columbia jazz audiences have come to expect and appreciate Freiderline’s narrative insertions about the music and the composers he plays during the Jazz on Main concerts, launched in January 2014. During the last concert of 2016, he revealed how, when he was no more than a kid growing up in Kansas, he came to be introduced to and influenced by Brubeck who, by then already had recorded the first jazz album to sell a million copies.
Brubeck’s wife is credited with setting the quartet on course for its enduring popularity by writing and calling colleges and universities in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, setting up appearances across the country. Perhaps as a result of Iola Brubeck’s booking tenacity, Columbia got an early taste of the Dave Brubeck Quartet; they appeared in the early ‘60s in the Dreher High School auditorium, as an interfraternity event. Elsewhere in the Midlands region, and in more contemporary times, Brubeck performed at Newberry Opera House toward the end of his career.
Freiderline balanced the evening’s performance between the music audience members recognized from the first note and a few numbers to grow on. Noting that Brubeck recorded more than 70 albums over his career, Freiderline said, “He could play the phonebook and make it sound good.”
His tease came at the end, after announcing the last song of the evening, then giving the audience “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” a number clamored for almost as fiercely as “Take Five.” Travels to Turkey in the musician’s formative composing years brought the beat for that one to Brubeck’s astute attention.
The first Jazz on Main concert for 2017 will be Gypsy Jazz by Andy Page and Matt Williams on Friday, January 20.
By Rachel Haynie of Palmetto Artifacts