The Brubeck Collection at the University of the Pacific

This week I’ve been in Stockton California taking up the Brubeck Collection Travel Grant I was awarded last September. I was researching his quartet’s tours to New Zealand in the 1960s and the genesis of his piece Maori Blues. The collection is an amazing resource for researchers that was endowed by Dave and Iola Brubeck in the early 2000s. I’m not sure which of the Brubeck’s was the archivist (though my money is on Iola as Dave’s de facto manager), but I’m glad that they did collect everything, and even gladder that I had the opportunity to make use of the collection, something that I doubt I would be able to do financially without the help of the Travel Grant. I’ll discuss some of my research in another post, but in this one I’m going to talk about the collection in general, and my experiences this week.

The Brubeck Collection is part of the Holt-Atherton Special Collections in the Library of the University of the Pacific and also a part of the Brubeck Institute. The collection is primarily documents rather than memorabilia, but also comprises the Dave Brubeck Oral History Project, the Brubeck Travelling Exhibition, and the recently established Real Ambassadors Oral History Project. There are also a number of related collections, including the Paul Desmond Papers, and papers belonging to Howard Brubeck, one of Dave’s older brothers.

Although I had a good idea about which parts of the archive to start searching in (thank four years of PhD research there!), the staff Mike Wurtz and Trish Richards were wonderfully helpful in suggesting other avenues to try. As with all archival research it’s often more about ‘trying’ and ‘seeing’ than it is about knowing exactly what you will find. And so it was in this case: things (papers/clippings/articles) that I thought for sure would contain information I wanted, didn’t and vice versa.

For me the Brubeck collection was an absolute treasure trove of business papers, personal letters and other writings, and tons of articles and clippings from which I can piece together a number of things about the Brubeck Quartet tours to New Zealand, and how the tune ‘Maori Blues’ came about. The most interesting item in the collection was, unfortunately, one I could not access- there’s a reel to reel tape of the Maori welcome to the Brubeck Quartet at Wellington airport in 1960, but I wasn’t able to listen to it. However, there a good contents list so that is something to be going on with at least. Outside of that what I actually found the most fascinating were the business letters, especially those from Joe Glaser of Associate Booking Corporation. It’s interesting to read letters that portray not his hard-nosed business side, but also the genuine fondness that he had for the Brubeck clan. In one letter he apologises to their secretary Charmian Slade for not replying sooner, but he didn’t want to write until he had organised his (latest) gift to the “kiddies”- a Newfoundland puppy.

Aside from the Brubeck collection itself, I took a side trip into the Paul Desmond Papers on the off chance that in his prolific writings there was something that would be useful. It didn’t, but it did give me much greater insight into this great saxophonist. The letters between him and his father were often hilarious examples of razor sharp wit- that occasionally went unappreciated by others around them.

All in all it was a wonderfully absorbing week in Stockton, and I hope I can produce several interesting pieces of work from this research. Thanks again to Mike Wurtz and Trish Richards for all the trip organisation and archival help that they gave me this week.

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