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The current Brubeck Fellows are, left to right, Evan Abounassar, Tony Milano, Gabriel Rupe, Maya Stepansky and Isaiah Collier.

The current Brubeck Fellows are, left to right, Evan Abounassar, Tony Milano, Gabriel Rupe, Maya Stepansky and Isaiah Collier.

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Arts and Culture

Brubeck Fellows travel to South America to build home, spread international diplomacy

Spirit of giving, using music to bridge cultural gaps part of Dave and Iola Brubeck’s legacy
Mar 5, 2018

Brubeck Fellows are more accustomed to playing axes and hammering on drums and vibes than they are using the actual hand tools, but that's exactly what they will be doing over spring break, while also using music to spread a bit of international diplomacy.

In a first-time partnership with Habitat for Humanity, the Brubeck Institute Jazz Quintet will be traveling to Paraguay to help build a home for a young couple and their child. The Fellows - who include Evan Abounassar, Isaiah Collier, Tony Milano, Gabe Rupe and Maya Stepansky - will also perform two concerts and hope to meet local musicians. They will take in the sites and enjoy Paraguayan and Brazilian food during the weeklong trip.

"It's going to be a great trip and a great experience for our students," said Patrick Langham, interim director of the Brubeck Institute and director of Pacific's jazz program. "Particularly for the students, because it's going to open up their eyes to the world around them."

The opportunity with Habitat for Humanity, the global nonprofit organization that provides descent, affordable housing in 1,400 U.S. communities and 70 countries, occurred because of another partnership - Take 5 at the Brew Jazz Club at Valley Brewing Co. Mike Huber, executive director of Habitat for Humanity of San Joaquin County, attended the jazz club just off Stockton's historic Miracle Mile and struck up a conversation with Langham.

One thing led to another and the idea of a partnership was bumped to Habitat for Humanity's international arm. Several countries vied for the BIJQ visit and Paraguay had the best opportunity for service and cultural exchange, Langham said. Habitat for Humanity, with contacts in the region, is handling the logistics of the trip.

Besides building the home for the young family, eating local cuisine and taking in cultural sites, the Fellows will perform original music and Dave Brubeck classics in two concerts. A local collegiate musical group will open for the BIJQ for at least one of the concerts. Langham said the Fellows are looking forward to helping the couple and meeting musicians from another country.

"They were most excited about building the house and helping out the family," said Langham, holding a flier with photos of the couple and small child, the bare worksite and a floor plan of the modest home being built. "They're also very excited about meeting other musicians in other counties, no matter the genre of music they play."

While this is the first time this group of Fellows has traveled abroad, it is not the first time the program has used music in international diplomacy, much as Dave Brubeck did 60 years ago in a State Department-sponsored tour of Poland, Turkey, India, Ceylon, East and West Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iran, and Iraq. Brubeck, acknowledged as one of the country's most significant post-Swing Era jazz musicians, continued to perform internationally throughout his long career, including in South America and South Africa. Past BIJQ Fellows have traveled to Spain, Canada, Washington, D.C., New York City and elsewhere since the program was formed in 2000.

Langham, who studied abroad in Brazil while attending University of Tennessee-Knoxville, believes experiential learning and traveling abroad are essential for the Fellows who plan on careers as musicians or in the music industry. He believes he and the Fellows will return from the trip invigorated from the experience.

"We're going to leave knowing we've helped this family," Langham said. "We're going to leave knowing we're leaving something solid behind."

He said the trip is akin to the work the Dave Brubeck Quartet did for the State Department, demonstrating that musical and other cultural exchanges help to overcome barriers such as language. Langham said the Fellows spend time in the Holt-Atherton Special Collections going over the Brubeck Collection in order to complete assignments that help them appreciate the legacy of Dave and Iola Brubeck.

"I hope that they take away from this trip knowledge that music can bridge the gaps that perhaps language can't," Langham said. "I hope they take from this trip a true meaning of the spirit of giving and helping others. And that the world is not as big as it might seem, that we're all connected."

Huber, Langham and the Fellows arrive in Asunción, Paraguay, on March 11 and are scheduled to be at the worksite in a rural community about an hour's drive away on March 12-14 and March 16, with concerts on March 13 and March 15.

The Brubeck Institute was founded in 2000 to honor the lives, work and legacy of Dave '42 and Iola Brubeck '45 to continue their lifelong dedication to music, creativity, education, and the advancement of important social issues including civil rights, environmental concerns, international relations and social justice. The Institute maintains five programs, including the Brubeck Collection, the Brubeck Fellowship, the Brubeck Festival, Summer Jazz Colony, and the Brubeck Outreach Program. The fellowship program provides a high level of instruction, an arduous performance schedule, and mentoring by local and national jazz talents. More information:


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