An Alum Remembers Dave Brubeck
Like many jazz fans, Bob Gellman ’57 was saddened by the news that Dave Brubeck, legendary jazz pianist and composer, had passed away last Wednesday at age 91. Brubeck’s death also sparked a memory from Bob’s Penn State days. Bob sent us his story, and after reading the title, we pretty much knew we couldn’t keep this one to ourselves. —Mary Murphy, associate editor
How We Kidnapped Dave Brubeck
By Bob Gellman
On December 5, a music legend died. I knew Dave Brubeck. He was a friend—for one momentous, fun night.
The year: 1955. The scene: Penn State’s Rec Hall. The event of that year, anticipated for months, was the Dave Brubeck Quartet concert for some 10,000 students, music fans, and jazz crazies from all over Pennsylvania.
It would become a legendary highpoint of my college experience, not to mention an unforgettable act of chutzpah extraordinaire.
It seemed at the time quite logical that my roommate, Jerry, and I concocted a ridiculous—really audacious—scheme: Let’s kidnap Dave. There were over 50 fraternities off campus in State College. Our goal was to throw the party of parties at our fraternity house, draw the best co-eds, and become the envy of our competitors by inducing the great Brubeck to play on our crappy, secondhand upright piano.
So here is what we did: Rec Hall had two entrances; main in front, and through the locker rooms out, in back. Before the concert, we stationed a car with three “brothers” (who took the non-concert attendance hits for the caper) at each entrance.
The concert was the best ever on campus. A mere second after the last number, while everyone else was clapping and stamping and screaming, Jerry and I quickly made our move down to the floor. First, we introduced ourselves as the president and vice president of the Penn State Jazz Club (pure BS). We greeted Brubeck, the great Paul Desmond, and the other two musicians. Then we asked Dave if he would please come with us. Before he had time to think about it, each of us took an arm and escorted him off the floor, out the back exit, and into the getaway car back seat, our new BFF (best friend forever) between us.
The rest is school history. One of the greatest jazz masters ever played at our house for hours. Many hundreds of students tried to get in—through doors and windows. Males were not welcome. Co-eds? Come right in!
Pictures of Jerry, me, and our pal, Dave, were lost. Today, the passing of Dave Brubeck makes me sad. But I also smile as I remember the night we snatched one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, and enjoyed one of the coolest musical party blasts ever at Penn State.
Bob Gellman is a retired toy manufacturer executive living on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.