By PETER KEEPNEWSMARCH 14, 2014
Iola Brubeck, who played an important behind-the-scenes role in the success of her husband, the jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, died on Wednesday at her home in Wilton, Conn. She was 90.
The cause was cancer, according to the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif., which announced her death. Both she and Mr. Brubeck were graduates of the university, which was known as the College of the Pacific at the time, and which has housed the Brubeck archives since 2000.
Mrs. Brubeck, who was married to Mr. Brubeck from 1942 until his death in December 2012, is credited with making him a popular concert attraction on college campuses in the early 1950s, when his quartet was relatively unknown and she served as his manager, booker and publicist. “We discovered that the best audiences for Dave’s music were really a young musical audience, preferably music students,” she said in an interview with the Library of Congress in 2008.
She wrote letters to scores of colleges, which resulted in numerous bookings and to the release of the live albums “Jazz at Oberlin,” “Jazz at the College of the Pacific” and “Jazz Goes to College,” whose success helped to make Mr. Brubeck one of the music’s biggest stars.
She later worked with him as a lyricist and librettist, providing words for tunes like “Strange Meadowlark” and “In Your Own Sweet Way” as well as longer works like the oratorio “The Light in the Wilderness” and the cantatas “The Gates of Justice” and “Truth Is Fallen.”
The Brubecks’ most ambitious collaboration was probably “The Real Ambassadors,” the satirical story of an American jazz musician who visits Africa on a State Department tour. They conceived it as a stage musical but never found a producer, and it was performed only once, at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival. A studio recording of the score, with a lineup including Louis Armstrong, the singer Carmen McRae and the vocal group Lambert, Hendricks & Ross as well as the Brubeck quartet, was released that year.
“The Real Ambassadors” is scheduled to receive its belated New York premiere on April 11 and 12 at the Appel Room of Jazz at Lincoln Center. It is also the subject of an exhibition set to open at the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens on April 1.
Iola Whitlock was born on Aug. 14, 1923, in Corning, Calif. She met Mr. Brubeck at the College of the Pacific, where they worked together on a student radio show.
Mrs. Brubeck is survived by four sons, Darius, Christopher, Daniel and Matthew, all of them professional musicians; a daughter, Catherine Brubeck Yaghsizian; 10 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. Another son, Michael, died in 2009.
Read Doug Ramey’s tribute to Iola Brubeck here