I couldn’t read, and that caused a lot of trouble in conservatory. So I hid it until I was a senior by not taking piano. … The other instruments were cello and clarinet, so I was just playing scales and getting by and doing the subjects I had to pass in. But my senior year, they said, “You have to take piano. And the piano teacher, in five minutes, ran downstairs to the dean and said, “Brubeck can’t read at all.” So the dean said, “You know, you’re a disgrace to the conservatory and we can’t graduate you.” And when some of the younger teachers heard this, they went to the dean and they said, “You’re making a big mistake,” because “He writes the best counterpoint that I’ve ever had,” said Dr. Brown, and Dr. Bodley went in and said, “You’re wrong, you know, this guy is talented.” So they convinced the dean to let me graduate, and the dean said, “You can graduate if you promise never to teach and embarrass the conservatory.” So that’s the way I graduated and that’s the way I’ve gotten through life, is having to substitute other things for not being able to read well. But I can write, which is something very few people understand.
Image via Mitch Tobias/Getty Images