California’s University of the Pacific was entrusted with it for a time. Yale and the Smithsonian campaigned hard for it. Fortunately, the stars aligned just so, allowing the Brubeck Collection to remain in Wilton; the town Dave and Iola Brubeck, and their six children happily called home.

“Elaine Tai-Lauria [Wilton Library Association executive director] spearheaded the initiative,” says Chris Brubeck. “It was a synergy that happened at the right time. When Elaine suggested the Library for the archive, Tish and I looked at each other and thought, ‘our prayers have been answered.’” The decision, made by the entire family over Skype,
was unanimous.

The Brubeck Collection represents a jazz legacy built over a distinguished 60-year career, which according to Tai-Lauria, includes, “a treasure trove of musical recordings, correspondence, legal and business documents, photographs, manuscripts, and memorabilia that belonged to Dave and Iola Brubeck.” It also offers a more complete portrait of a singular man. 

Imagine launching your music career in 1947 and landing on the cover of Time Magazine seven years later. The subsequent list of awards, honors, and accolades Brubeck received is considerable. Now, historians, jazz aficionados, musicologists, and the public can experience the Brubeck Collection for themselves, either in person at Wilton Library (by appointment), or through the online portal. 

“Currently, the archival room has study tables and a computer to access all catalogued materials, including thousands of manuscripts, notes, photographs, albums, and digital recordings. A listening station and other enhancements are planned, and various items from the Collection will continually be displayed in the exhibit area” says Tai-Lauria.

Brubeck loved to effect change through music and believed that art could transcend all boundaries and borders. He used music’s unifying power to open cultural doors in eastern Europe, South Asia, the Middle East, and the Soviet Union — and he did it in a way that politics had failed to in the past. He promoted racial inclusivity at a time when most people chose not to, and was a strong advocate for civil rights, steadfastly refusing to play southern venues that wouldn’t allow black band members to perform on-stage. Additionally, Brubeck composed scores for ballets, musicals, and liturgy; inspired and mentored aspiring musicians (including his own children); and entertained millions of fans worldwide. 

But how did Brubeck, a native Californian, end up in our sleepy New England town in the first place? Chris Brubeck explains: “My mom was tired of my dad coming home at three in the morning, smelling like an ashtray after playing clubs in the Bay area. In the early 1950s, my dad was flying back and forth across the country all the time. Iola calculated how much more he would be home if we lived on the east coast — two months more per year. That made the decision an easy one.”

The family liked the Wilton vibe and subsequently purchased land on Millstone Road where they built an Asian influenced Mid-century Modern manse. Inevitably, the Brubeck home became a kind of musical Mecca. 

“A lot of musicians came up here,” recalls Chris. “I have many memories of Joe Morello and Paul Desmond rehearsing in the great room. Peter, Paul, and Mary; Chick Corea; Bill Crofut; Gerry Mulligan — there were always people in and out of there.”

The Brubeck family has now launched a new initiative: The Brubeck Living Legacy. “The goal is to provide opportunities for students to carry on the traditions of Dave and Iola — not just with jazz, but also for those who are classically oriented, as well as students who write and compose,” explains Chris’s wife, Tish Brubeck. “Dave and Iola were active in civil rights and we want to be socially conscious with projects
we undertake.”

The organization’s first project is to partner with Nevada’s Classical Tahoe for the Brubeck Jazz Summit, an international music camp. Candidates from around the world are selected via virtual auditions. Participants then spend a week in intensive training sessions with staff educators during the day and perform at night.

Perhaps Dave and Iola’s greatest living legacy resides in their children: London-based Darius tours with the Darius Brubeck Quartet; Chris, who plays multiple instruments, is an innovative performer, composer, and educator; as a child, Cathy played piano and flute and is now a writer; Dan plays the drums; Toronto-based Matthew has recorded with renowned musicians including Tom Waits, Sheryl Crow, Jewell, Dixie Chicks, and Sarah McLaughlin. (Michael passed away in 2009 but in his youth, played saxophone).

The Wilton Historical Society (WHS) recently celebrated Dave Brubeck’s centennial with the exhibition, Remembering Dave: A Brubeck Family Album. WHS Co-director Allison Sanders succinctly sums up the iconic musician’s many contributions: “He was named a Living Legend by the Library of Congress for a reason. Wilton and the world had an extraordinary citizen in Dave Brubeck.”

Photo by Jack Bradley. Dave and Iola Brubeck with Louis Armstrong.