Gorbachev’s candidacy for Russian democracy included American jazz


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

Pianist and composer Dave Brubeck has devoted much of his work to civil rights issues and understanding different cultures. His quartet toured the Soviet Union in 1987 and returned in 1988 for the Reagan-Gorbachev summit in Moscow, 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 that the Reagans wanted the Dave Brubeck Quartet to play at a gala dinner held at Spaso House in Moscow, the Summit’s final meeting.

According to Gloyd, each table had Soviets seated with their American counterparts, and the audience was calm and tense. Brubeck opened the show with the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn classic, “Take the A Train.” The room lit up and the audience suddenly came alive as Soviets and Americans realized they liked the same thing: American jazz.

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

Dave Brubeck with a young Russian violinist

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

“When I toured 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 come to life with the hope that this man could lead him to a kind of freedom that had eluded him for many decades. He and others, like our dear friend and cultural impresario Mary Ann Allin, believed that the key to the future was sharing the arts to build bridges between our two countries.

Chris’ band with his siblings, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, performed with the Russian National Symphony Orchestra in Moscow and St. Petersburg in 2012. They have made several appearances with the National Symphony Orchestra’s Wind Quintet Russian in America.

“I made a lot of friends through these musical collaborations, and I worry about 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 constructive dialogue between the peoples of Russia and America.”


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