But this success had not come without reservations in the jazz world. Brubeck was on the wrong side of the purists almost as soon as his discs started to become hits – for what were seen by some as three betrayals. First, and maybe worst, he made money, which was a form of notoriety usually regarded as a sell-out by hardline hipsters. Second, his conspicuously complex tempos paraded cleverness and a fondness for European classical devices at a time when black American jazz was dumping much of its formal baggage, and fiery, impassioned and unpredictable improvisers such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane were on the rise. Third, he was portrayed by the cognoscenti as wasting the talents of a truly great improviser in Desmond, his lyrical and delicate alto saxophonist.
Such generally perspicacious writers as the British critic Benny Green were merciless with Brubeck. But the band was a huge success all around the world, and toured constantly. The jazz-loving American comedian Mort Sahl once remarked of American cold-war foreign diplomacy that “After John Foster Dulles visits a country, the State Department sends the Brubeck Quartet in to repair the damage.”
As I said, pretty awesome.