The sheet music for Dave Brubeck’s composition “In Your Own Sweet Way” gives the copyright date as 1955 although he wrote it earlier and didn’t release a recording of the song until his 1956 solo album called Brubeck Plays Brubeck. In Fred M. Hall’s biography, It’s About Time, the author says, “In April 1956, the Brubecks were living in their dream home in the Oakland Hills high above the Bay. Dave had purchased one of the then-state-of-the-art Ampex tape recorders and producer George Avakian, back in New York, sent some reels of used tape about to be tossed by Columbia. Dave began to record himself, solo piano (generally late at night, after the kids were asleep). He’d then send samples back to Avakian. Eventually, says George, ‘This resulted in Brubeck Plays Brubeck which included the first recording of ‘Two Part Contention’ (a play on ‘two part invention’) as well as solo treatments of ‘The Duke’ and ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’.”
In Len Lyon’s book The Great Jazz Pianists Brubeck tells the story behind the tune. “‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ was the first original that I’d written in years. It was about ’52 or ’53. We had just done a concert in upstate New York, and back at the hotel Paul [Desmond] said, ‘We really need some original material,’ because we’d been doing practically all standards. ‘We better find somebody to write some,’ Paul said. I looked at him and said, ‘You got to be kidding. I’m a composer. I can write two originals in a half hour.’ So I sat down and wrote ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ and a piece called ‘The Waltz’ in thirty minutes just to show him. Paul titled ‘In Your Own Sweet Way.’ He really liked it. I don’t think either of us liked ‘The Waltz’.”
In his book Jazz Styles: History and Analysis, Mark C. Gridley describes Brubeck’s style: “He is one of the few modern pianists clearly to avoid standard bop melodic conception and rhythmic feeling. He is unusually inventive and depends almost exclusively on original melodic lines, not the phrases that most of his contemporaries absorbed from the music of Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell. He was inspired more by Art Tatum, Fats Waller, and Cleo Brown than bop. ...Much of Brubeck’s invention has a distinctly classical flavor. In fact, sometimes he and Desmond improvised duets that sounded like the two-part inventions of J.S. Bach, set atop jazz bass and drums.”
Brubeck’s wife Iola, a fine lyricist who has collaborated with Dave over the years on many projects, including adaptations of Biblical text for his liturgical works, added the rather cryptic lyric to “In Your Own Sweet Way.” It’s about a charmer whose “sweet way” has “turned the world upside down.” However, as the singer says in frustration, “I can tell that you’d like to stay your own sweet way.”
Various Brubeck groups have performed “In Your Own Sweet Way,” and it was recorded at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival for Dave Brubeck and Jay and Kai at Newport. Miles Davis recorded the song on his Workin’ album in 1956. His version includes several chord substitutions and an added eight-bar interlude. Not surprisingly, many pianists, including Bill Evans, George Cables, and Keith Jarrett have recorded the tune as well as several guitarists, among them Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow, and Emily Remler. The song has been performed by trumpeter Chet Baker, harmonica player Toots Thielemans, conguero Ray Barretto, flutist Ali Ryerson, and violinist Michal Urbaniak. Since 2000 three young pianists have featured the composition on their CD’s: Taylor Eigsti, David Hazeltine, and Russian-born Eldar.
Brubeck, who was instrumental in popularizing jazz in the 1950s, appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1954, and his 1959 album Time Out achieved platinum status. He is the subject of a Clint Eastwood documentary, In His Own Sweet Way, which is due for release in 2008.