I like to think that Dave Brubeck, who died this week at the age of 91, was my earliest physics teacher. Ever since my brothers and I learned of Brubeck through the records that our babysitter, Olaf Running, brought to our house and played for us, we acquired our own collection (Time Out, Time Further Out, Countdown -- Time in Outer Space) and thereafter listened daily toward a specific purpose. To wit:
We played with blocks well past the toddler stage. For us, blocks were the means to construct ever more complex affairs which we called "roll-down-marble-things." Brubeck's odd time signatures provided the perfect challenge toward our experiments in geometry and gravity. Marbles would clack down corridors, contacting hidden other marbles, thus a red cats-eye dropped into the slot could yield a blue "purie" shooting out the final exit.
It always sounded like Dave was having a lot of fun playing with his fellow musicians, and he gave us grade school children permission to keep on having fun with the simplest of kid toys, blocks and marbles. I'm convinced we organically absorbed fractions in the music, just as the architecture and marble movement gave us hands-on knowledge of physics.
Even with an orchestra, Brubeck brings a load of fun to the table. The little-known "Elementals" on Time Changes is a successful mix of jazz and classical genres. It stands the test of time. We all know "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo ala Turk" -- now take a listen to one of Brubeck's first forays into the classical realm (with the Quartet there to ensure it swings!).
Thanks for everything, Dave Brubeck!