While enjoying a magnificent view of Lake Tahoe’s deep blue waters glimmering below me this past weekend, I was inspired to jot down a few thoughts and memories. Tahoe has always been a special place for me and significant in family lore. When my father was just a young musician, (at 18, in the late-1930’s) he organized a Jazz group to come up and play all summer at a dance hall at the end of a pier that jutted out into the legendary lake. The small “big band” would play arrangements written by my dad and other young musician buddies, and the vacationers would dance the night away. My Dad and the rest of the band would sleep in the loft above the dance floor. Their “shower” was to jump into the lake’s chilly waters every morning. I am sure that the pay was meager but to my old man this was paradise; away from living the cowboy’s hot and dusty life and making music all summer long with his pals. I imagine he felt like I did when I was 18 and touring the country in 2 vans with my creative funk/rock group “Sky King.”
In the late 1970’s I came to Tahoe as bass player and trombonist with the now famous Dave Brubeck Quartet playing some special concerts at the Casinos that had sprung up along the shore. Fast forward to 2014 when I was asked to be a guest soloist with the Classical Tahoe Chamber Orchestra. I first met the conductor, Joel Revzen, around 20 years ago when he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at Abbey Road Studios where we recorded “Bach to Brubeck” with my late friend Bill Crofut on banjo and Joel Brown on guitar. Joel Revzen’s illustrious career has led him to the conducting staff of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and guest conducting appearances all over the world including a few years ago when The Brubeck Brothers Quartet played several gigs with the Russian National Symphony Orchestra. We played some of Dave’s big tunes orchestrated by me, and some woodwind quintet plus jazz quartet pieces I composed to sold-out venues such as Tchaikovsky Hall in Moscow, and the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg. Maestro Revzen and his wife Cindy have remained great and talented friends throughout the years. Three years ago we played my 1st trombone concerto in Tahoe along with a children’s piece I wrote with Mary Ann Allin about Russia’s famous “Hermitage Cats.” The musicians playing for Classical Tahoe are incredible both in skills and attitude. They floored me when THEY asked to add an extra rehearsal to purrfect this tricky chamber work. Who wouldn’t enjoy the privilege of making music in one of the most beautiful spots in the world?
This past Sunday Peter Madcat Ruth, harmonica wizard (and original member of Sky King) and the terrific guitarist Joel Brown and I played a private fundraising party for Classical Tahoe. This trio is known as Triple Play and Maestro Joel Revzen is a big fan. So the continuing and always-expanding concentric circles of life’s musical connections and friendships continue to reverberate. My wife, Tish, and I had a wonderful weekend visiting relatives and enjoying the unique atmosphere of this beautiful spot that holds a special place in our family history. In fact, Dave wrote a great Jazz waltz in the 1980’s (which we recorded on Concord records) called “Blue Lake Tahoe.” Its beautiful melody dances through my mind as I stare out over the blue jewel that inspired him then, and when he was a kid dreaming of a musical career way back in the 1930s. I hope we can stand on Tahoe’s shores someday with our kids and grandchildren and tell them the stories that connect us to this enchanting place.
Listen to Dave Brubeck’s Blue Lake Tahoe here: