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Dave Brubeck, R.I.P.

Sad news today: Jazz legend Dave Brubeck died today at the age of ninety-one.

Brubeck, born Dec. 6, 1920, in Concord, Calif., was the son of a cattle rancher. His mother was a classically trained pianist. Although he studied zoology at the College of the Pacific in Stockton, he came to love the music department. While serving in the Army during World War II, Brubeck formed the band the Wolfpack. After the war in the Bay Area he experimented with music groups and styles.In 1951 he and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond created what would become one of the most popular acts of West Coast jazz, the Dave Brubeck Quartet. The quartet's most famous piece was "Take Five," composed by Desmond, from the 1959 release "Time Out.

Commonweal published an interview with Brubeck in 2009, in which he discussed his Catholic faith.

So often people will say that I converted to the Catholic religion. This is false. Although I was raised as a Protestant, I was never baptized and had never been a member of any church. I joined the Roman Catholic Church after I had written my Mass To Hope! A good friend of mine, Fr. Ron Brassard, told me that he loved the music I had composed for the Mass but I had omitted the Our Father, and he wanted me to write a musical setting for it. I answered that I had already completed the composition of the Mass and I couldnt see a way to include what I then referred to as the Lords Prayer without interrupting the musical flow. I felt Id successfully fulfilled my assignment from Our Sunday Visitor, the publication that commissioned the Mass. I definitely felt no motivation to start writing again. Since I had completed the composition, I planned a vacation with my wife and children. We were on a Caribbean island. During the night I dreamt the entire Lords Prayer with chorus and orchestra. I jumped out of bed and wrote down what I had heard as accurately as I could remember. Because of this event I decided that I might as well join the Catholic Church because someone somewhere was pulling me toward that end. Over the years Ive had strong friendships with many priests. As a matter of fact, a group of Christian leaders from the National Council of Churches came to my house in the 1950s to ask me to write music for a Mass. I didnt think I was ready at that time. So, in a sense, I guess joining the church and writing the Mass was a culmination of a long journey that is still going on.

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And here's Brubeck with his quartet in Moscow 15 years ago this week, playing an excerpt from his Mass, "To Hope: A Celebration" with the Russian National Orchestra. http://youtu.be/r2FNC66gBJ8

When I met my husband I was into rock music primarily. He was a jazz fan and devoted to Brubeck. I converted, or really,just added jazz to my musical loves. We saw Brubeck whenever it was possible in our area - at Tanglewood, SPAC, and the first time at Troy Music Hall in Troy, NY. I was determined to have a special birthday present for my husband. Not easy at the time with a tiny budget and many children. A responsible baby-sitter for our large brood, tickets and a week of eating pasta and veggies and off we went to the Music Hall. Brubeck played excerpts from his Mass. This was maybe 30 years ago and what I most remember in that Hall with the wonderful acoustics, was the segment "walking to Jerusalem". I still hear it in my head. It was a powerful and to my ears an authentic representation of the liturgy. Right now, the day he has left this earth, we are playing his albums on our ancient stereo (I think we have about 20 of his records). May he rest in peace. We thank God for furnishing us with artists like Brubeck who can interpret the Christian narrative in a profoundly intuitive and creative way.

A window into his great soul was the segment on Ken Burns Jazz when he tears up talking about a black man to whom his father introduced him in his California boyhood who had been branded. You listen to the man play. You see the photos with the liner notes. Music was really *play* for him, and it was genuine play for his bandmates too.

"Take Five" is a great achievement. I don't think anyone knew, before they heard that song, that 5/4 time could be anything other than awkward.Here is an example of the traditional "take" on 5/4 time: this is "Sensitivity", from the score for "Once Upon A Mattress" (as it happens, it's sung by Carol Burnett). The song was composed by Mary Rodgers, Richard Rodgers' daughter; it's rooted in the Western formal music tradition. It's pleasantly light and comedic, but the effect it leaves the listener with is that you have to work a little harder to breathe.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BHhp2NXUPg4Here is the Dave Brubeck Quartet on Take Five (audio only):http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9aG3wUrfrEBrubeck taught us all that 5/4 can *swing*. It makes you want to dance along. One of the post-VII Catholic "greatest hits" is "Sing of the Lord's Goodness", by Ernest Sands, which surely is influenced by / a homage to / based on "Take Five". http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cXCz49EwjrU

A Pakistani orchestra (right, Pakistani orchestra) recently did a variation of Take Five, and in 10 weeks the album went to the top of the iTunes jazz chart. I can't hear it, but it's supposed to be really good. Here's a story about it in The Guardian.http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/aug/05/pakistan-musicians-top-weste...

A footnote: the band that Brubeck formed during WWII, The Wolfpack, was one of the first racially integrated bands in the military. He didn't see 'color,' only heard music.

" After the war in the Bay Area ..."That is evidently one war that the history books missed.Poor editing on the part of the Post.

If you like jazz, then listen to the Brubeck Quartet's Jazz at Oberlin performance. Pure joy, pure jazz. Wild but disciplined, it displays that quintessential jazz yin/yang of intellect and emotion. It doesn't get any better.

About the wildness and discipline -- I read that Brubeck said that jazz is universal because though highly disciplined, there is "freedom within the discipline". This, I think, is true of all the great arts. The particular article that included that quote said that it's because of the combination of discipline and freedom that Brubeck's music is much like the Baroque, including, of course, Bach --s Highly disciplined, highly inventive and highly complex besides. Also, unlike many contemporary composers, Brubeck didn't aim just at originality, he wanted his music to be beautiful. Very counter-cultural of him.

freedom within the disciplineI believe that this maxim applies to liturgy as well.

Agreed, Jim. Though I'm generally on the liberal side of things, I have to admit that in the liturgies wars I'm in sympathy with some of the conservatives, even though their love of rules often seems inordinate. Stravinsky was one of the greatest artists of the 20th century. HIs "Rite of Spring" was so extremely different from the classical stuff that preceded it that when it was premiered in Paris the audience rioted. But he said about rules that there *must* be rules. He said it doesn't make any difference what the rules are, but there must be rules. Too bad that some of the liberal liturgists don't appreciate that. Unfortunately, it seems that only great artists are able to invent great new sets of rules. My problem with the current rules for the new liturgies (Sacrosanctum concilium) is that the rules were written by non-great artists, a Vatican committee. And it shows.