/ 22 March 2024

Chip off the old rock … it seems that musical gene-ius can be passed on

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Musical progeny: Jazz legend Dave Brubeck as a young man in the 1950s. (Getty Images)

The expression “As the tree, so the fruit” certainly applies to musicians and their children. As the American Songwriter website says, “Though not scientifically proven, it’s possible that music is passed down through generations …” 

It lists some examples: Achy Breaky Heart country singer Billy Ray Cyrus, whose daughter Miley has become a pop megastar in her own right; Elvis Presley’s Lisa Marie; Zöe Kravitz, who is Hollywood royalty as the daughter of rock star Lenny Kravitz and The Cosby Show star Lisa Bonet; crooner Nat King Cole’s daughter Natalie; and two Beatles’ boys: Julian Lennon, son of John, and Zak Starkey, whose dad is Ringo Starr.

They do mention Bob Marley’s son, Ziggy, but omit his brothers Damian, Stephen, Ky-Mani and Julian, who all dabble in music.

Berry Gordy is listed too. Although he wasn’t a musician, as the founder of Motown Records, he brought us geniuses such as Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and many others. 

Gordy’s youngest son, Stefan Kendal Gordy (aka Redfoo) is one half of the electronic dance duo LMFAO alongside his nephew and Gordy’s grandson, Skyler Austen Gordy (aka Sky Blu). The duo rose to the top of the charts in the mid-2000s with Party Rock Anthem

One wonders if Gordy senior was laughing his arse off at this novelty hit or whether he is just shufflin’ past it on his party playlist.

There are many more examples of like father/mother, like son/daughter in jazz: Fela Kuti’s sons, Femi and Seun, not to mention grandson Made; Ellis Marsalis’ sons Wynton, Branford, Jason and Delfeayo; Joshua, son of Dewey Redman; Steve Dyer’s son Bokani; Tsidi Ibrahim, known professionally as the rapper Jean Grae, whose parents are Sathima Bea Benjamin and Abdullah Ibrahim; and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, son of jazz icons Alice and John.

Eccentric rocker Frank Zappa released a live album in 1986 titled Does Humor Belong in Music?. All Music website said in a review: “Asking the title question is answering it, at least when Zappa is concerned.” Being the oddball, he took this “humour” to naming his kids. Despite an appearance in 1982 at the age of 14 on Zappa’s career-defining song Valley Girl, his daughter decided to rather pursue a career as an actor, writer, comedian, artist, businesswoman and podcaster. I guess a name like Moon Unit was enough weight to carry, without going into music too. 

Her brother Dweezil wasn’t deterred and has carried on his father’s substantial legacy by touring with the group Zappa Plays Zappa.

The list goes on but I think it is safe to say many of the kids of hugely successful artists, who also choose musical careers, often find themselves in the shadow of their parents, with many scars. Freud would have had lots of material.

An exception is jazz pianist, composer and academic Darius Brubeck, son of the global jazz icon Dave, who was married to Iola Whitlock for 70 years until his death in 2012. They had six children — four of them professional musicians: Chris, Dan, Matt and Darius. Dave’s children often joined him in the studio or in concerts.

In the recently released memoir Playing the Changes, which Darius co-wrote with his wife Catherine (see main story), he writes: “Ever since I was a child, interviewers have asked me, ‘What is it like to be Dave Brubeck’s son?’ and they still do, even though I am 75 years old. 

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Four of Dave Brubeck’s six children, including Darius Brubeck (above), followed in his footsteps as musicians. (Alan John Ainsworth/Getty Images)

“I have no other way of being in the world.

“I learn that what they wanted was a story, like my going to Poland with Dave in 1958 (Darius was 10), or sleeping under Cal Tjader’s vibes in the Kaiser Vagabond car in the 1950s when the family used to travel together, but that’s not really a deep answer.

“To quote Tolstoy, ‘All happy families resemble one another.’ We were a happy family. Mom read stories to us; Dad and our ‘uncles’ played music. I was the eldest of five brothers and a sister. We had the usual family conflicts and fun together.”

But when Darius started out in music, it wasn’t always that easy. 

“I went out of my way to avoid trading on my father’s name, which I equated with not deserving success myself, but in later years, when I moved to London as a full-time musician, I embraced my father’s legacy as a significant heritage.”

Darius writes in the book that,in their 23 years in South Africa, between 1983 and 2006, the Brubeck name was ideal for fundraising and getting press attention to help take student groups to conferences and build tours.

In a letter from South Africa to his mom in 1987, Darius wrote: “Dave Brubeck is at least as well known here as the pope.”

When Darius and Catherine took their jazz group from University of Natal (Durban), the Jazzanians, on a tour to the US in 1988 they stayed with Dave and Iola. 

In my interview with them, I asked what his dad thought of the Jazzanians record, We Have Waited Too Long. Catherine reminded Darius that Dave wrote a letter to the Jazzanians after receiving the record in 1988: “I have that letter, in which he says that he’s cooking at the present, but he’s not cooking as well as they cooked it and how hot they were. He loved it. Loved it.”Dave Brubeck even wrote a song titled Jazzanians in tribute to the young jazz band — he recorded it in 1992 with Chris and Dan as Trio Brubeck. Darius and his brother still play the song