William B. Schieffer, A Nash Metropolitan & The Dave Brubeck QuartetFriday, June 10, 2011
The other advantage is that they could own a car or be able to drive their family car.
There was one day student, William B. Schieffer who was difficult to ignore. For one thing he was not only in my class year but he also sat close to me in the reed section of the school band. I played the alto sax and he played the B flat clarinet. To make it worse he was a lot better than I was.
Schieffer was shy and quiet and didn’t seem to need to study to get somewhat decent grades. He drove a car.
The car he drove, I first noticed him driving it in 1959, was a two-toned tourquoise and white Nash Metropolitan. We did not know then that he may have been simply ahead of his time to drive what we considered to be the ugliest car in all creation. It looked like an overturned bathtub. I thought why would anyone would want to drive such a small car which was finless. My idea of a beautiful car was the gull-winged 1959 Chevrolet.
I was much too stupid to keep my thoughts of Schieffer’s car to myself. I asked him why he drove such a laughably ugly car. He looked at me seriously, wrestled me to the ground and told me, with his fist very close to my face, something like, “If you ever say anything bad about my Nash I will punch your face!”
From that point on I treated Schieffer with respect. But I did talk to him about my love for jazz. I told him I really liked Harry James and Herbie Mann. I remember that he smiled at me and advised me, “If I were you I would go to a concert this weekend at the University of Texas that features the best pianist in jazz today. His name is Dave Brubeck.”
For years I have felt a deep appreciation for William Schieffer’s advice and direction. I have often tried to find him but the man seemed to have left no trace.
Most of my Texan classmates at Austin stayed in Texas. Few left so I kept searching for Schieffer in the the free white pages on line. A couple of years ago I found a Willam B. Schieffer living in San Marcos, Texas. But the number had been disconnected. I searched the San Marcos newspapers and found that a Schieffer family had been inside a house that had burned to the ground. A William B. Schieffer had survived. And after that nothing.
In this year’s all classes reunion at St. Ed’s (a couple of weeks ago) I was chatting with day student (class of 1962, one year behind me) called Bill Kunz. I asked him, “Do you remember a William B. Schieffer, the one who drove a Nash Metropolitan?” His answer, “He’s my cousin,” floored me.
Kunz explained that Schieffer had always been odd and that he had indeed been involved in a house fire. But Kunz did not give me any further details except to tell me that his cousin was in a nursing home.
Kunz gave me the address and I will write and thank Schieffer for all he did for me. I might be lucky to receive and answer. But that is not important.
On Wednesday afternoon I happened to turn on my TV to the Turner Classics Channel and saw (odd as I didn’t know that TCM ever showed documentaries) that was all about Dave Brubeck with a luxury of detail and archival stuff that was stupendous, including some great piano playing by one of Brubeck’s idols, Duke Ellington. The documentary was produced and directed by Clint Eastwood. I watched and felt a satisfaction of remembering where my love for jazz, Dave Brubeck, and Paul Desmond had come from. It began with that funny man who drove the ugliest car in the world, a Nash Metropolitan.
Sometime around 1971 I was teaching in an American high school in Mexico City. I had a kid who never stopped rapping his fingers on his desk. One day, when I could not take it any longer I said, “You can rap on the desk as long as you do it in 5/4’s time.” The kid answered, “There’s not such thing.” I replied, “listen to the Dave Brubeck Quartet play Take Five.” A couple of days later the triumphant kid was rapping in 5/4. I told him, “Now try 11/8.” I do believe that the kid ended appreciating the Dave Brubeck Quartet as much as I did.