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Thursday Treasures

January 22, 2015

REVIEW: Dave Digs Disney
By Justin J. Smith

When one thinks of "Disney music" there's a good chance that jazz isn't the first genre that pops into your head. Nonetheless, jazz has perhaps the most interesting of connections to Disney. And there's no better place to start the connection of Disney and jazz than with the album Dave Digs Disney by the Dave Brubeck Quartet.

If you're unfamiliar with Dave Brubeck, he was a jazz legend. A giant in the art-form, he was infamous for inventive improvisational solos and his unusual time signatures. His biggest claim to fame is perhaps "Take Five," written in 5/4 time, as it became the highest-selling jazz single of all time, certainly one of the few jazz pieces to ever reach mainstream status. Its one of those songs where you might not know the name but will immediately recognize it once you hear the melody, likely having heard it multiple times before.

 

Having always been fascinated when two larger than life figures from different fields collaborate, Dave Digs Disney, which predates "Take Five" by two years, has always been a great interest of mine. It speaks wonders of how monumentally vast the Disney empire is when even someone as unique and distinctive as Dave Brubeck has collaborated with the company; or for that matters his quartet (which shifted between different members through-out the decades, for this album Paul Desmond played the alto saxophone, Joe Morello played the drums, Norman Bates played the bass, while Brubeck arranged the compositions and played the piano).

Dave Does Disney

On the the surface, the album looks slight. It features only a mere eight songs(originally six songs but two bonus track were added in a reissue) from four Disney movies: Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, Pinocchio, Cinderella, and Alice In Wonderland. Those songs being:

1. Alice In Wonderland
2. Give A Little Whistle
3. Heigh-Ho
4. When You Wish Upon A Star
5. Some Day My Prince Will Come
6. One Song
7. Very Good Advice
8. So This Love

And yet�in total these songs clock up to a total of 50 minutes! Gotta love Brubeck's improvisations making some of these songs clock quite a bit longer than their original counterparts!

Being Disney's national anthem, the rendition of "When You Wish Upon A Star" is certainly a highlight. Brubeck's arrangement give a very interesting upbeat and soothing quality to a song that tends be rather sober and borderline melancholy. It tends to be a favorite of several podcasters. It's been played on commercials, it was even was featured on a Disney College Program Orientation video from the '90s.

The other tracks are quite iconic too, though, as I've heard a few of these instrumentations play through-out the parks (my ear couldn't help but catch this version of "Heigh-Ho" when drawing at the Animation Academy in September).

Alice in Wonderland

The most intriguing thing to me about this album, though, is Brubeck's interest in Alice In Wonderland. The title song itself clocks in at 9 minutes and 24 seconds (the longest track on the album) and he even manages to give attention to "Very Good Advice" (a song not put in much regard). He clearly loved the film, which was quite uncommon for 1957 (let alone 1952, the year after the film was released and when Brubeck first adapted the title song as a jazz single, five years before this album). Back then, Disney's Alice was disliked by critics, the audience didn't respond to it much with it receiving lower bow office numbers than other Disney movies, even Walt himself expressed disappointment in the final project. It wasn't until decades later, starting in the 70s (coinciding with the drug culture of the time) that the movie's reputation started to come around until we eventually reach today where Alice is considered as iconic and beloved as any other animated film Disney has released. The fact Dave was a fan of this film from the beginning speaks volumes oft the guy: always ahead of his time, which is what precisely what made him a great fit with Disney.

That opening credit song, "Alice In Wonderland," became an unlikely iconic jazz standard, having been adapted by other legends in the field of jazz such as Bill Evans and Oscar Peterson, all due to Dave Brubeck! I'm sure Brubeck has influenced pretty much anyone who has done jazz renditions of Disney songs following him though (Miles Davis has even been accused of practically stealing his rendition of "Someday My Prince Will Come").

My favorite track from this album though is easily "Give a Little Whistle." The song itself has always been one of my favorites, and his rendition is just so zippy and catchy that I can't even tell you the amount of time I brought it up to listen in the background while doing other stuff such as homework, cleaning, or even writing this article.

Despite Dave Brubeck having nearly lived to 92 years old, he never did make a follow-up Disney album, which I think is a bit of a shame. Just imagine what "Zip A Dee Doo Dah" or your pick of any Sherman Brothers song would've sounded like as jazz standards! None the less, it still is somewhat of a minor miracle that this collaboration ever happened in the first place, and I for one am grateful that it did.

Dave Brubeck

 Everybody Wants to be a cat

The entire album can be purchased on iTunes for a mere $7.92. The legacy collection, which has the songs in both mono and stereo (as well as some alternate takes) can be bought for $14.99. You can also find a couple of Brubeck's tracks on a few other Disney jazz albums, such as "Everybody Wants to Be A Cat: Disney Jazz, Vol 1."

Speaking of other jazz albums, there are other CDs of Disney songs turned to 'jazz' such as "The Circle Sessions (The Music Carthay Circle)" but that's perhaps another article.

 

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