Dave Brubeck wins medal for spreading jazz abroad

Tue Apr 8, 2008 8:02pm EDT
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By Arshad Mohammed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck accepted a State Department award on Tuesday for promoting America with concerts in countries from Iraq to Poland, and he won praise from the top U.S. diplomat, who listened to his music as a girl.

"As a little girl I grew up on the sounds of Dave Brubeck because my dad was your biggest fan," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said at ceremony where Brubeck received the department's Ben Franklin Award for public diplomacy.

"Thank you for your patriotism and your leadership in representing America by introducing the language, the sounds and the spirit of jazz to new generations around the world," she added.

Best known for his quartet's 1959 hit "Take Five," Brubeck, 87, then sat down at a piano to play his improvisational piece "dziekuje," which means "thank you" in Polish, composed partly in memory of his mother's love for Polish composer Frederic Chopin.

Brubeck, who toured Eastern Europe in 1971 for the State Department, said the popularity of jazz has waned over the last 50 years "but in a cultural sense, it's still very important because it's the voice of freedom."

"Every country has a group of young -- or old -- people that live in a desire to be free," he said, saying people in former Soviet satellites took great risks by playing jazz.

"If you got caught ... lost your identity cards, you could never get a good job, you could never go to school, to the university, because you loved jazz," he said. "Why? Because it's freedom that they wanted to stop and jazz was that voice of freedom and it still is."

Brubeck made his first State Department journey in 1958, when he took a two-month trip to Poland, Turkey, India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, saying he got a warm welcome everywhere and "really great" reception in India.   Continued...

<p>File photo shows Dave Brubeck siting next to a piano in Monterey, California, September 22, 2007. REUTERS/Kimberly White</p>