“But don’t change a hair for me
Not if you care for me
Stay little Valentine, stay!
Each day is Valentine’s day.”
Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart wrote My Funny Valentine in 1937 for a Broadway show called Babes in Arms. Frank Sinatra and practically every other singer has recorded the song, but my favorite is the instrumental version by Paul Desmond. That name may or may not be a familiar one, but he played alto saxophone in the Dave Brubeck Quartet. Brubeck died two months ago, one day short of 92, outliving the younger Desmond by 35 years.
In 2007, I told the story of my trip from Claremont to Rhode Island, with three friends, to attend the 1955 Newport Jazz Festival (“My Teenage Jazz Festival and Duke Ellington”). We heard the great jazz musicians of that era. My article didn’t tell the whole story of our Newport trip, however, probably because I was too embarrassed.
The four of us – Ray, Vic, Mike and I – were riding around downtown Newport one afternoon when we spotted Brubeck and Desmond. I pulled over to the sidewalk, and Mike rolled down the window and called out, “Hey Dave!”
Brubeck turned towards us, and Mike yelled, “You stink.”
Brubeck looked at Desmond, then back at us, as if to say “What the … ?”
I drove off. As I recall, none of us chastised Mike. We probably thought it was funny, Stevens High School sophomores being sophomoric.
I still have the 33 1/3 long-playing vinyl record Jazz at the College of the Pacific, six songs recorded live in 1953 by the Dave Brubeck Quartet. It is one of two ten-inch records that I own (the other is Benny Goodman’s Session for Six), and the only one that is red in color – like a valentine. Desmond’s My Funny Valentine isn’t on the record, but if you have a few free minutes a week from today, you can listen to it on YouTube,
Last summer Mike drove over from Vermont for our annual dinner at the Common Man restaurant in Claremont. He brought his daughter, a recent college graduate, and we told her the Newport story.
“Who’s Dave Brubeck?” she asked. Her father told her.
“Is he still alive?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“Well, she told us, “you should apologize.”
I’ve lost track of Vic, but Ray and Mike remain my dear friends. On the day Dave Brubeck’s death was reported in the papers, Ray sent me a two-word email – “Sad news.” I forwarded it to Mike and remembered his daughter’s advice last summer. It’s too late now, but Dave and Paul, we apologize. To paraphrase the My Funny Valentine words that appear at the beginning of this piece, we care for you both.