The photo stayed up on my refrigerator for years.

It eventually had to make way for family pictures and various magnetic mementos, but the picture -- or, more specifically, the moment it captured -- is still very much alive in my memory and heart.

Especially now.

The photo was the proof that I had met one of my longtime music heroes: Dave Brubeck. Now, he's gone -- having died Wednesday, one day short of his 92nd birthday -- and I find myself thinking about that moment again and again.

I never really thought I'd get a private audience with Brubeck when I attended a 2006 fundraiser for the Pacific Vascular Research Foundation, held at a home (more like a mansion, actually) in San Mateo County.

Cautious approach

I knew that I was going to get to hear the pianist perform in an unbelievably intimate setting, a treat in and of itself. I felt fortunate just to have been invited to the ultraexclusive event, at which I'm pretty sure I was the only one wearing a Men's Wearhouse suit. It was one of the situations that truly underscores how lucky I am to be a journalist.

Between bites of appetizers with names I couldn't pronounce, I saw Brubeck across the room. He was looking quite dapper and distinguished, in a dark pinstriped suit, complemented wonderfully by a pink tie. His silver hair seemed to sparkle.


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I edged closer to get a better look, as Brubeck shook hands with a bevy of well-dressed well-wishers. Then, suddenly, it felt like it wasn't enough. I wanted to talk to him -- at the very least, say "hi." So, I moved in with outstretched hand. He took it with a gentle grasp, using both of his hands, and I couldn't help but feel like mine was the luckiest right hand on the planet. I was shaking the hands that had produced some of the most meaningful and glorious music of the 20th century.

A true music man

What followed was beyond my wildest expectations. I sheepishly introduced myself as a music critic, hoping that he wouldn't quiz me about my credentials. He immediately seemed interested. We started talking about music. Not about his music -- he seemed determined to steer the conversation away from that -- but music in general. In particular, he wanted to talk about the young musicians who were performing across the room at that very moment.

There were musicians performing? Oh, yeah, so there were. I literally hadn't noticed. But Brubeck certainly had, and, at one point, during a particularly inspired exchange from the group, I swear I could see his eyes twinkle through his thick glasses.

Maybe it was just a reflection from the overhead lights, but I choose to remember it as a definite twinkle. You can read into a twinkle -- and this one seemed to say that Brubeck, then 85, hadn't lost an ounce of his passion for music.

After a few minutes, Brubeck and I parted company so he could prepare to play his own set. Yet, that memory has never left me. And, fortunately, someone was there to take a photo of it.

Now, all I need to do is find a place on my fridge to put it up again.

Follow Jim Harrington at Twitter.com/jimthecritic.

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appreciation