Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Gorbachev's bid for Russian democracy included American jazz

American jazz icon Dave Brubeck shakes hands with USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, with bassist Eugene Wright and Ronald Reagan, 1988
Brubeck Family
Chris Brubeck
American jazz icon Dave Brubeck shakes hands with USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, with bassist Eugene Wright and Ronald Reagan in 1988.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union, died on August 30 at age 91. He supported a free press and initiated cultural exchanges, with a preference for American jazz music.

Pianist and composer Dave Brubeck dedicated much of his work to civil rights issues and the understanding of different cultures. His quartet toured the Soviet Union in 1987 and returned in 1988 for the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in Moscow, which was credited with ending the "Cold War" between the USSR and the United States.

In 1988, the quartet performed at the White House. Several weeks later, Brubeck's manager Russell Gloyd received a call informing him that the Reagans wanted The Dave Brubeck Quartet to play at a gala dinner held at Spaso House in Moscow, the final meeting of the Summit.

According to Gloyd, each table had Soviets sitting with their American counterparts, and the audience was quiet and tense. Brubeck opened the performance with the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn classic, "Take the A Train." The room brightened and the audience suddenly came alive as both Soviets and Americans realized that they liked the same thing— American jazz.

Then-U.S. Secretary of State George Schultz sent Brubeck a note the next day, writing, "Dave, you made the summit. Nothing good was happening until last night when each side realized that they had something in common. You!"

Dave Brubeck with young Russian violinist

Yesterday, Brubeck's son, bassist and trombonist Chris Brubeck, wrote about Gorbachev on Facebook:

"When I played a tour in Russia with The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1987, and when I was there for the Summit a year later, I could feel the Russian people coming alive with hope that this man could lead them to a kind of freedom that had eluded them for many decades. He and others, like our dear friend and cultural impresario Mary Ann Allin, felt the key to the future was the sharing of the arts to make a bridge between our two countries."

Chris's group with his siblings, The Brubeck Brothers Quartet, played with The Russian National Symphony Orchestra in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2012. They've made several appearances with the Russian National Symphony Orchestra Woodwind Quintet in America.

"I've made many friends through these musical collaborations, and I worry for those friends now," wrote Chris Brubeck. "The world needs more leaders like this. Thank you Mr. Gorbachev for enriching the lives of so many by encouraging a constructive dialogue between the people of Russia and America."

Originally from Detroit, Robin Lloyd has been presenting jazz, blues and Latin jazz on public radio for nearly 40 years. She's a member of the Jazz Education Network and the Jazz Journalists Association.