Some information adapted from press materials
There’s something so cinematic, so romantic, so mythological that is about to happen this Sunday afternoon, Nov. 15, at 3 p.m. right here in Wilton, in honor of Veterans Day. Not only that, but it’s based on a true story, one so sweet, someone should have made a movie about it.
Instead, someone wrote a jazz symphony, and Wilton has a starring role.
June 1944. A young Dave Brubeck was an American soldier with Gen. Patton’s Army in France during D-Day and the Liberation. At the age of 23, he survived to the end of the war most likely because a superior officer heard him play piano and wanted to save the talented jazz musician from being injured or worse, so he sent Brubeck far away from the Norman front. After the war, Brubeck went on to study with famed French composer, Darius Milhaud, and later became one of the world’s greatest jazz musicians himself, one who wove in French and European traditions to innovate his singular style of jazz composition. Dave’s son, Chris Brubeck, would also grow up to be a famous jazz musician and composer who performs around the world.
During that same summer of Liberation, in the same region of France, lived a young French teenager named Alain Saint-James. On June 7, 1944, in the middle of the Battle of Bayeux, he was operated on by Allied soldiers for an emergency appendicitis. They saved his life as the troops were liberating Bayeaux around them. Saint-James grew up with a love of the music of the era of Liberation and American jazz–Dave Brubeck in particular–a love he passed down to his son, Guillaume Saint-James. That launched Guillaume’s own celebrated jazz career in France as a saxophonist, pianist and composer.
While the two men of the older generation never met, their sons did play together onstage for the first time, 70 years later, performing as guest soloists for the Orchestra Symphonique de Bretagne in 2012. Coincidentally, the piece they played was “Take Five,” one of Dave Brubeck’s most famous compositions. During the performance, at the end of one of Guillaume’s solos, Chris reached over to shake the hand of his French peer, and said, “Hey, Brother!” That chance pairing led to their collaboration on a piece commissioned by that Brittany Symphony Orchestra, and together they wrote, “Brothers in Arts — 70 Years of Liberty” to honor their fathers as well as to pay homage to all those who fought and died in June 1944.
The piece was written to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of D-Day (June 6, 1944) through the 70th Anniversary of the German Surrender (May, 1945). It has been played mainly in France, and has only been performed in a few select cities in the U.S.. This Sunday, Nov. 15, the New Haven Symphony Orchestra will be performing “Brothers in Arts” at the Clune Auditorium with a jazz quintet made up of Guillaume Saint-James and Chris Brubeck, along with three other French jazz musicians: Jerome Seguin on bass guitar; Didier Ithursarry playing accordion; and Thierry Arpino on drums and percussion.
Chris and his wife, Tish Brubeck, invited GOOD Morning Wilton to their Wilton home one afternoon last week to sit in as the quintet rehearsed. What’s most striking is the evident joy the five men have playing together. As they practice certain sections again and again, to get the feel and the rhythm just right, it’s electric to watch these talented jazz musicians who speak two different languages, communicate so fluently in their shared language of jazz.
The five work together as they play and marvel at each other’s talent. It’s incredible to hear accordionist Didier Ithusarry play with what seems impossible speed, adding an unmistakably French-sounding flavor to the composition. Past and present melded, cultural differences blended together to create magic.
Chris and Guillaume worked together over almost a year, sending files back and forth across the Atlantic, with one mission in mind. As Guillaume describes, “The orchestra director asked us to write a piece…about peace!”
Chris explains the meaning behind one of the symphony’s movements they’re rehearsing:
“This comes after we’ve had big battle movements, very bombastic and discordant. This we play without the orchestra and it’s called ‘Song of the Sons,’ with the idea that there are references to swing music and other influences. It’s like Guillaume and I are free to make the music we want because our fathers and that generation fought to give us a free life,” he says.
Indeed, the entire composition is a symphony borne of the legacy of the two fathers, men who walked separate paths but shared a love of a very particular and special form of music. But what is most remarkable is the way the sons have discovered not only their shared love of their same chosen professional pursuit but also the way the individual legacies of their fathers have united to join the sons to walk on the same path, discovering a friendship close enough that they each call one another, ‘brother,’ and regard the other as family.
Looking back on that day in 2012 he and Guillaume were asked to play together for the first time, Chris says discovering the connection was profound not just for him but for so many people who witnessed it.
“Part of the amazing small world, cosmic things that happen in life, I thought it was incredible. It’s not uncommon for jazz players to meet and there to be good musical chemistry,” Chris says. “But what was really incredible was this man from the State Department, the cultural attaché who witnessed it, he said, ‘This is fabulous! You should write a piece together.’ He was really excited witnessing a cosmic little moment.”
Chris chokes up, recalling how moved people in France have been to hear the piece performed and to understand the connections behind its creation.
He’s excited to be able to bring the piece to Wilton, to share it in a place and with people that were so important to his father and his family. He knows, too, the respect Wilton has for history, and everything, says Chris, will be extraordinarily meaningful at Sunday’s performance.
“It’s absolutely from the heart.”
Tish remarks how important it is to them to honor America’s veterans, “to get people to stop, pause and reflect on what these amazing heroes of WWII accomplished.”
The Nov. 15 performance has been made possible by a grant from The Tell Foundation with thanks to Wilton residents Catherine and Ed Romer. It will feature the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, for which Chris Brubeck is the 2015 artist-in-residence. Tickets are $25 for adults, $10 for students, and children 7-17 are admitted free with the purchase of an adult ticket. Free admission Blue Star tickets are available for active duty military and families. Tickets will be available at the door, or to purchase tickets in advance or to find out more information visit the New Haven Symphony website or call 203.865.0831, ext. 20.
The show starts on Nov. 15 at 3 p.m.. It will feature original video and photos choreographed to the musical performance, courtesy of WQXR classical music host Elliott Forrest.
CBS Radio correspondent and Wilton Resident Dave Barrett filed a piece on the Brothers in Arts performance, which he made available to GOOD Morning Wilton readers, here: