Points on Jazz (1961)

Points on Jazz

1961 | 27 min
Orchestrated by Howard Brubeck

In 1960, choreographer Dania Krupska approached Dave Brubeck to expand his piece “Dziekuye” into a full-length ballet. Points on Jazz was commissioned and premiered by the American Ballet Theatre in 1961 in Hartford, CT, and received its New York premiere on April 26, 1961 at the Broadway Theatre, where The New York Times compared the drama to a “television show.”

World Premiere: January 16, 1961; Bushnell Auditorium, Hartford, Connecticut

Choreography by Dania Krupska
Music by Dave Brubeck
Music Orchestrated by Howard Brubeck
Scenery and Costumes by Oliver Smith
Lighting by Jean Rosenthal

Original Cast:
Elisabeth Carroll (Girl)
Scott Douglas (Boy)
Sallie Wilson (Other Woman)

Program Note by the Composer

Points on Jazz is a ballet suite which was composed for two pianos as a set of rhythmic variations on a theme. Some of the variations are based on jazz concepts, others are derived from the classics.

The history of Points on Jazz began on a cold day in March, 1958. Travelling through Poland between the cities of Llodz and Poznan, I jotted down a romantic, melancholy theme that seemed to express the feeling of those who sat with me on the train, staring out at the barren winter landscape. My Quartet was on a State Department sponsored tour behind the Iron Curtain and our final concert in Poland was scheduled for the following evening in Poznan. That night at the concert intermission, I played the theme for the members of my group and suggest to our announcer-interpreter friend, Roman Waschko that as a dedication to the people of Poland we would play the new piece as an encore. To express in some measure our gratitude for the warmth with which we had been received in their country, I called the piece “Dziekuye,” the Polish word for “thank you.”

The audience responded with a stunned hush, followed by applause mingled with tears. When I returned to the United States in the spring, I sent copies of the piece back to Poland, and the printed music appeared as the cover of the Polish jazz magazine. Soon the piece was being performed by Polish jazz musicians. “Dziekuye” was often played by my Quartet on our concert tours of the United States and Europe, and finally was recorded in the Quartet album “Jazz Impressions of Eurasia.” (CL 1251)

When Dania Krupska, an American choreographer of Polish descent, heard “Dziekuye” on the album, she immediately wired to ask if I would use the theme to write music for a jazz ballet she was preparing. At our first meeting, she told me the story of the ballet and the variations in rhythms she had outlined for her dancers. As the story unfolded, I improvised variations on the theme “Dziekuye.” These impromptu variations later became the basis for the composition commissioned by the American Ballet Theatre.

The Boy is the Theme. He is all alone on the stage—detached. Gradually movement begins. The Girls make their entrances. He tries to reach out and make contact with them, but cannot.” Dania’s description produced the first variation, PRELUDE.

Now The Girl enters. She is fresh, gay, bubbling with life.” THE GIRL is the SCHERZO with bright arpeggios and a pounding, rhythmic pulse.

Here comes The Temptress.” She is a slow BLUES. “She entices The Boy, then leaves him to summon other men to gather around her. They fight for her in a primitive dance and she is tossed wildly from one man to another.” The BLUES tempo quickens. “Then The Temptress snaps her fingers and walks out on the men.” End of BLUES variation.

The FUGUE was designed as a choreographed “chase” with entrances of the dancers corresponding to the music entrances.

Now The Girls and The Boys are happily together again. They are wacky, happy Couples.” The RAG.

“Their happiness makes The Boy feel even more alone.” The Boy’s theme is a CHORALE variation.

The Girl reaches out for The Boy. She wants to comfort him.” Introduction to WALTZ variation. “He recognizes her as The Girl of the SCHERZO. They dance a romantic pas de deux.” The SCHERZO theme in 2/4 and The Boy’s theme in 3/4 meet in the WALTZ variation.

The Girl is overjoyed. She music call everyone to share her happiness.” A LA TURK variation and FINALE. “In the confusion of their celebration, The Boy and The Girl are separated. After a climactic search they find each other, embrace and walk away, arm in arm.”

© Dave Brubeck, 1963