December 6, 2012

My Life’s Soundtrack… according to Dave Brubeck.

My first Cool Cat memories of the master hip Jazz artist Dave Brubeck were probably before I could even tap my feet along to his soul-soothed rhythms.

But I knew I was grooving on his wild take of more than just five senses that moved my young body and mind towards higher ground. I was really digging his sound and I was really getting to his beat.

Listening to Brubeck is a mystical and spiritual experience.

You can’t really describe in any palpable language how his piano playing and arrangements makes you feel as if the feeling is much too raw, too real, too out-of-body, and too serene to hinder the experience with mere words either loosely or intellectually gathered.

As a young child, I watched my father paint in his Los Angeles art studio with the sounds of “Take Five” looming about like a perfectly allegoric soundtrack.

Bijoux, painting by my father, artist Les Biller

Other pieces like “Summer on the Sound,” “Serenade Suite” and “September in the Rain” tugged at my heartstrings as well, and had me in love by their first welcoming notes, propelling me into a cosmic and dreamlike state.

My father is an artist, classically old school and yet progressive and endlessly passionate about his work and his life.

When he painted, it was as if every heat-punched and earthy sound seemed to wave and bounce naturally with the broad and free brushstrokes on both large and small canvases that he painted on day after day in utter solace and with concise brevity.

The first time I heard Brubeck outside of that large, grey cinematic studio and away from my parent’s creative laired-home, I wondered, “Who stole our music?”

So much a part of our lives was music like Brubeck’s, Stan Getz, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Chet Baker and other Jazz greats… I assumed innocently that their soundtrack belonged only to us.

And it did.

It didn’t matter if other cats were listening to the impossibly rich sounds that artistic geniuses like these created seemingly out of thin air.

What mattered was that we were enjoying them, and that their unparalleled artistry was shaping my very childhood and future right before my eyes.

Was I aware of this?

On a subconscious level, I am sure that I was.

You have to understand that my upbringing was a magical one—a renaissance if you will.

It was the 1960s and 1970s in Southern California and life was not only about free love, but about free expression and a will and calling to create new art that rivaled all other pursuits, and on all levels.

My mother is Nissei-generation Japanese and was raised in Hawaii during the Second World War, and earned a teaching degree at the University of Hawaii. After moving to L.A. with my father, she became a fashion designer, a dream she had since a child after watching movies from the golden age of Hollywood that mesmerized her with their artful and glamorous clothing.

Four kids later, she became a fashion designer and was creating one-of-a kind hand-made exclusive designs made out of antique Japanese kimonos for The Rolling Stones, Raquel Welch, Cher and countless other artists and creative spirits in the L.A. area, booming at the time with orgasmic creativity.

My sister and mom in her Fashion designs Me modeling my mom’s fashions

My father is a Russian Jew and was raised in Brentwood, California to parents who were designers and artists. He attended USC and the University of Hawaii where he met my mother, and later became an art professor at UCLA, as well as spending time as a Fulbright Scholar in Kyoto, Japan.

He became an acclaimed artist in his own right, showing his work at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Honolulu Academy of Arts and in collections all over the world. He now spends most of his free time painting and drawing, as well as teaching his four children many of the wonders of his world.

When my parents weren’t creating and making unique things, they were hanging out with creative and unique people.

My parents at an Art Opening, 1970s

Their friends were musicians, strange and wonderful filmmakers, screenwriters, playwrights, costume designers, writers, intellectuals and others who frequented our house for parties and all-night get togethers in the swifty-bluffed neighborhood of Santa Monica Canyon.

My parents loved people, conversation, new ideas and fresh takes on life—and the people that I grew up around influenced and inspired me in ways that I still can’t shake today.

So many visuals gleam richly in my mind’s eye as I allow myself to wander from near infancy recalling countless passages, interactions and experiences that I still rely on today for my own creative pursuits.

And what does Dave Brubeck have to do with all of this?


Throughout all of this magic, his sounds were playing in the background and in the foreground of countless epiphanies, both grand and small throughout the wonderments of my life.

Simply put, if you can think about about anything that might have mattered to me, Brubeck’s music was probably a part of its making and inspiration.

That’s right… that’s the magic and power of his classic and unique sound.

Just to name a few memories that stand stealthily and bittersweetly by as I recall his musical influence and spirit…

My first copy of a Picasso I painted at four

The first time I tried on my mom’s red lipstick and wore it outside during daylight hours

Dancing with the door open and letting the rain in during a spring-heated storm

Learning to flirt like Scarlett O’Hara in the summertime

Dreaming about one day moving to Paris and becoming a struggling writer, and loving every minute of it

Every Woody Allen movie ever made

Trying on my white silk satin dress my mother designed for me for Prom with a slit going way up the side of my leg, Bianca Jagger style

Reading Hemingway, Jean-Paul Sartre, Franz Kafka and James Baldwin for hours on end, until I couldn’t see straight

Deciding that I would be an artist one day like my father

Deciding that I would become a writer one day like my great grandfather

Becoming both an artist and a writer

Sauntering into an awards show in a little black dress, and all eyes on me after I received two

Convinced I was in love with my college professor

Dreaming about the children I might have

Having children entirely different from my dreams, but eventually having kids much better than any I ever could have dreamt of

Watching my grandmother get the best table at any restaurant, at any time

Holding my grandfather’s hand at the Merry Go Round at the Santa Monica Pier

Hearing my mother sing Cole Porter and George Gershwin songs

Watching my brother surf on big waves on the North Shore of Hawaii

Successfully throwing my first adult dinner party at 21 with five home-cooked entrees

Every cool art opening I have ever been to

Hearing my father tell me that I was a talented writer after I wrote my college application essay

Listening to endless conversations by my parents and their friends about wild and wonderful things—from politics to Tolystoy, from wine to Fellini films, from Cezanne to winter stews, and from existentialism to socialism.

Driving up and down Route 66 with the top down of my car

My first trip to New York and having my every expectation surpassed

Enjoying each new and strange year as I get older, wiser, and braver, and loving the heck out of it

Dave Brubeck…

May you rest in peace my man.

And may I tell you Fine Sir that your music has made my life a happier one . . .

A more spiritual one

A loftier one

A sexier one

A more “in-depth” one

A cerebral one

A philosophical one

An exotic one

A serene one

A relaxed one

An erotic one

A humbler one

A peaceful one

An inspirational one…

And in the great words of Dave Brubeck himself, allow me to leave you with a couple of thoughts that you might appreciate as Quintessential Brubeck…

“There’s a way of playing safe, there’s a way of using tricks and there’s the way I like to play… which is dangerously where you’re going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven’t created before.”

And one more…

“I’m always hoping for the nights that are inspired where you almost have an out of body experience.”

May you rest in peace.

And may you know that your music has and will continue to inspire countless other people… so long as they have minds, hearts, souls, spirits and any breath left in them to whisper and feel your artistry right down to their personal rhythms.


Ed: Lynn Hasselberger

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