When darius brubeck was six, his father-the jazz musician Dave Brubeck-took him backstage to meet Louis Armstrong. Later he met the awesome Duke Ellington, too. “He was a huge presence. He was a sort of father figure to Dave,” says Darius. But it was Miles Davis who spent the most time at the Brubecks’ house in Oakland, California. “Everyone assumed that they were having profound conversations about jazz, but actually Dave and Miles had a passion for talking about boxing and basketball. One day the famous jazz critic (and later founding editor of Rolling Stone), Ralph Gleason, called by. He was a big power in the music business-everyone knew that. He was charmed by the sight of two such big jazz personalities just sitting around yarning about Archie Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson: in those days, not a lot of white guys had black friends round to their houses. So Gleason was impressed. ‘You know,’ he said to Miles, ‘you could come over to my house too.’ Miles always had to have the whole world on his terms and, having formed the impression that Gleason didn’t know much about boxing or basketball, just said. ‘Oh yeah, what for?'”
If Darius (named after the French composer, Darius Milhaud, under whom Dave, like Burt Bacharach, studied) was once a little white boy sitting at the feet of these black jazz greats, a good deal of his own adult life has been spent transmitting what he learned to the predominantly black world of South African jazz. Darius has been my friend for many years. One of the best things in the friendship has been that he was a supporter of the ANC for pretty well all that time, and while that once described me, too, it ceased to do so some time back. In South Africa such friendships aren’t easy. Our tastes in jazz have diverged too-Darius delving into more abstract sounds, while I remained an uneducated enthusiast. But what he has achieved through his music is not something for which you need a musical education to appreciate. As director of the Centre for Jazz and Popular Music and professor of jazz studies at the University of Natal, Durban, Darius has been a big figure in South African jazz: for 17 years he tirelessly taught, performed and fundraised for-sometimes even housed-the aspiring talents from the townships who are the bulk of his students.