It Happened at Michigan — ‘Jazz Goes to College’


A University of Michigan audience helped make Dave Brubeck an icon of 20th-century jazz.

Brubeck, a pianist who served in World War II and once planned to become a veterinarian, made national headlines in 1954 with the release of “Jazz Goes to College.” Joined by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, double bassist Bob Bates, and drummer Joe Dodge, Brubeck watched the album climb the charts and help set the tone for modern jazz.

While “Jazz Goes to College” lists the University of Michigan as the recording venue, the Brubeck quartet performed off-campus at the Masonic Temple on Fourth Avenue. The show, however, was heavily marketed to students.

A photo of "Jaxx Goes to College"
A ticket to Brubeck’s Ann Arbor concert, captured on “Jazz Goes to College,” cost $1.75. (Columbia Records)

Campus performances were the idea of Iola Brubeck, Dave’s wife, to drum up interest among younger audiences. The dance music of the 1930s and ’40s was dying off, and jazz was, as always, recreating itself.

“Listening to the quartet at one of the numerous college venues it was playing each year by the mid-1950s, students could see themselves flatteringly refracted in the music: hip, assured in their taste, heading for big things,” wrote Kevin Starr in his 2009 book, “Golden Dreams: California in an Age of Abundance, 1950-1963.”

A photo of a Time magazine cover featuring Dave Brubeck
Pianist Dave Brubeck was only the second jazz musician (after Louis Armstrong) to be featured on the cover of Time. (Boris Artzybasheff, Time)

Five of the seven tracks on “Jazz Goes to College” were recorded in Ann Arbor on March 8, 1954. Before the show, Brubeck mingled with fans and signed autographs at The Music Center, a Thayer Street store that is the Bell Tower Hotel today.

Brubeck later said some college venues were hesitant about his music.

“Often the conservatories we were visiting included teachers who were very interested, but there were controversies at the institutions as to whether we should be allowed to play,” he told Jazz Education Journal in 2001. “Sometimes I’d be led to an old, beat-up piano for the performance when there’d also be a great grand piano backstage that they wouldn’t let me go near!”

The popularity of “Jazz Goes to College” landed Brubeck on the cover of Time magazine on Nov. 8, 1954. Brubeck audiences, the magazine said, “listen to some of the strangest and loveliest music ever played since jazz was born.”


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