December 6, 2012

Dave Brubeck leaves an astonishingly great legacy

Jazz legend Dave Brubeck, 91, dies of heart failure while on his way to a cardiology appointment

Jazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck died from heart failure on Wednesday while on his way to an appointment with his cardiologist.

He had a career that spanned almost all American jazz since World War II. He formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 and was the first modern jazz musician to be pictured on the cover of Time magazine - on November 8, 1954 - and he helped define the swinging, smoky rhythms of 1950s and 60s club jazz.

The seminal album Time Out, released by the quartet in 1959, was the first ever million-selling jazz LP, and is still among the best-selling jazz albums of all time. It opens with Blue Rondo A La Turk in 9/8 time - nine beats to the measure instead of the customary two, three or four beats.

A piano-and-saxophone whirlwind based loosely on a Mozart piece, Blue Rondo eventually intercuts between Brubeck's piano and a more traditional 4/4 jazz rhythm.

The album also features Take Five - in 5/4 time - which became the Quartet's signature theme and even made the Billboard singles chart in 1961. It was composed by Brubeck's longtime saxophonist, Paul Desmond.

'When you start out with goals - mine were to play polytonally and polyrhythmically - you never exhaust that,' Brubeck told the Associated Press in 1995. 'I started doing that in the 1940s. It's still a challenge to discover what can be done with just those two elements.'

Telegraph obit

The quartet which he led between 1951 and 1967 achieved a level of popularity rarely seen in jazz, before or since. Its recording of Take Five (1959) remains one of the few jazz records instantly recognized by members of the general public.

Another Telegraph obit here by Martin Chilton, online culture critic.

Brubeck was in the thick of jazz’s evolution from swing and bebop to hard bop, cool jazz, and orchestral jazz with a global flavor. He was always willing to take on a challenge, whether it was performing with classical star Yo-Yo Ma or composing a jazz-opera version of the John Steinbeck novel Cannery Row. He was the subject of an acclaimed documentary film by Clint Eastwood called Dave Brubeck – In His Own Sweet Way, in 2010.
Brubeck performed for Pope John Paul II and for eight U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan, whose 1988 summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow included a concert by the jazz maestro.

Brubeck received the National Medal of the Arts, presented at the White House, and he won a Grammy in 1996 for lifetime achievement. The Brubeck Institute, whose honorary chairman is the actor Eastwood, was created by the University of the Pacific to support jazz students and promote Brubeck’s music.

“Once when asked how I would like to be remembered, I answered, ‘As someone who opened doors,’” Brubeck said.

And still another from the Telegraph, Dave Brubeck, Endless curiosity combined with stubbornness.

Brubeck didn’t have the réclame of some jazz musicians who lead tragic lives. He didn’t do drugs or drink. What he had was endless curiosity combined with stubbornness. ….

Though he was a prophet of the current trend for bringing world music into jazz, Brubeck wasn’t a complete outsider. Listen to his performance on YouTube of St Louis Blues with Gerry Mulligan and you’ll realize he could swing as much as anybody. He was a phenomenally hard-working band leader, playing the college circuit every year with his quartet until the late Sixties, when he focused more on composition. His work list is astonishing, including oratorios, musicals and concertos, as well as hundreds of jazz compositions. This quiet man of jazz was truly a marvel.

The NYT obituary is long and good enough with a lovely quote at the end -

Mr. Brubeck once explained succinctly what jazz meant to him. “One of the reasons I believe in jazz,” he said, “is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear.”

- but it is alarmingly incomplete because it never mentions his sacred music or his conversion to Catholicism, important elements of his life. 

I read Mollie at Get Religion who remarked on the noticeable lack of mention in the New York Times and the Washington Post about his sacred music or his religion though the AP obituary does make a few mentions….

Brubeck always felt that his successful jazz career led fans to overlook the second career he launched as a jazz-inspired classical orchestral and choral composer in 1967 after disbanding his original quartet.

His experience in World War II led him to look beyond jazz to compose oratorios, cantatas and other extended works touching on themes involving religion, civil rights and peace.

"I knew I wanted to write on religious themes when I was a GI in World War II," Brubeck said, recalling how he was trapped behind German lines in the Battle of the Bulge and nearly killed. "I saw and experienced so much violence that I thought I could express my outrage best with music."

….I decided to focus on what most of the Brubeck obituaries overlook.  In fact, Brubeck considered Upon the Rock and The Light in the Wilderness as his greatest musical accomplishments.    Otherwise, I'd be lost in his astonishing discography.

He was commissioned to write Upon this Rock which he performed when Pope John Paul II came to Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1987 before 72,000 people.  He talks about it here

One of the funniest things that ever happened for me was we were into part of my mass. And, there became a different sound in the stadium, and then silence .

And, I looked up, and the Pope was looking at us. So, when Russ finished conducting, he came over and sat on the piano bench with me because there was no place for him to sit. And I said, "Did the Pope bless us or something?" And he said, "Either that or he's trying to learn to  conduct in 4/4 time." (laughter)

And you know, this movement, from being so nervous, now I've gone into hysterics, so I pretend that I dropped my music so I could crawl under the piano where nobody could see me breaking up. Because it's the wrong to get so crazy (laughter) laughing. You don't do that .

The Light in the Wilderness: An Oratorio for Today, based on the teachings of Jesus was first performed in 1968 by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.  I searched for a recording, but it is sadly out of print; however, YouTube has the Hastings College Choir singing the Sermon on the Mount. 

Ah, I found a youtube video of 40 days via T Matt's 2009 post, The soul in Dave Brubeck's jazz.

For centuries, Brubeck once told me, the world’s best composers worked to create music that would appeal to audiences in sanctuary pews as well as in elite concert halls. For him, composing a complete Mass was one of the greatest technical challenges of his career because it had to be challenging and simple at the same time.

“I really wanted it to be something that everyday people could perform,” he said. “Most of the time, the faith that really matters and really affects people is the faith out in the local churches. The Mass was written for those kinds of people — not just for professionals. … What good is religious music if it can’t be performed in churches?”

To Hope!: the jazz mass that Brubeck composed in 1980 which changed his life.  He performs it at the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory in 1997 .  Here is a fragment with Bobby Militello on sax, Jack Six on bass and drummer Randy Jones.  Beautiful, joyous and exhilarating. 

The very best piece was done three years ago by Mark Lombard, Dave Brubeck: Making a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord in the St Anthony Messenger.

This jazz icon sought to break racial barriers, cross national boundaries and build cultural connections. Then he found the Catholic faith.
Brubeck canceled a television appearance and several concerts because he would not change from his integrated band, noting that prejudice is “morally, religiously and politically wrong.” He received the “deep appreciation” of the NAACP in a 1960 telegram for his “courageous stand against submitting your band to the pressures of immoral racial discrimination” and for being willing to accept the not insignificant financial loss associated with “the very valuable and tangible contribution that you have made to the fight for human rights.”
In 1958, the quartet was selected by the U.S. State Department to make a 14-country goodwill tour of Europe (including Poland, which was then behind the Iron Curtain), the Middle East and Central Asia.  The trip left a lasting impression on Brubeck, as he incorporated the rhythms and beats of the cultures encountered in music the quartet would produce. “You’re influenced by everything you hear,” he says. “My [college] teacher always said, ‘Travel the world and keep your ears open.’”

“Music crosses any boundaries that outline a different country. The music becomes very universal,” Brubeck explains as we sit face-to-face at his home in Wilton, Connecticut. “You feed something in and you get something back. And there is your exchange, the cross-cultural exchange.”
Most think of Dave Brubeck as the white-haired jazz pianist who has been for decades leading a famous quartet. But many may not be aware of his impact as a composer of orchestral pieces, a Catholic Mass and other sacred music.

Though he had little classical training, Brubeck acquired an interest in sacred music during the Second World War. That was when he conceived the idea for an oratorio based on the Ten Commandments, especially the prohibition “Thou shall not kill.”

It was not until two decades later that he wrote the short piece, “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” to comfort his older brother, Howard, whose son died tragically of a brain tumor at 16. That piece was incorporated into his first major choral work, The Light in the Wilderness (1968), an oratorio on Jesus’ teaching which he premiered with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra.

“The most profound thing that Christ said was, ‘Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you,’” Brubeck states. “To think that someday I would use that in the oratorio, that it was the center of The Light in the Wilderness!”
To Hope! A Celebration was Brubeck’s first encounter with the Roman Catholic Mass, written at a time when he belonged to no denomination or faith community. It was commissioned by Our Sunday Visitor editor Ed Murray, who wanted a serious piece on the revised Roman ritual, not a pop or jazz Mass, but one that reflected the American Catholic experience.

The writing was to have a profound effect on Brubeck’s life. A short time before its premiere in 1980 a priest asked why there was no Our Father section of the Mass. Brubeck recalls first inquiring, “What’s the Our Father?” (he knew it as The Lord’s Prayer) and saying, “They didn’t ask me to do that.”

He resolved not to make the addition that, in his mind, would wreak havoc with the composition as he had created it. He told the priest, “No, I’m going on vacation and I’ve taken a lot of time from my wife and family. I want to be with them and not worry about music.”

“So the first night we were in the Caribbean, I dreamt the Our Father,” Brubeck says, recalling that he hopped out of bed to write down as much as he could remember from his dream state. At that moment he decided to add that piece to the Mass and to become a Catholic.

He has adamantly asserted for years that he is not a convert, saying to be a convert you needed to be something first. He continues to define himself as being “nothing” before being welcomed into the Church.

He received, among other awards: Notre Dame University’s Laetare Medal, perhaps the oldest and most prestigious honor given to American Catholics; the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award; the National Endowment for the Arts National Medal of Arts award, presented by U.S. President Bill Clinton; a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame; induction into the International Jazz Hall of Fame and American Classical Music Hall of Fame; and the Living Legacy Jazz Award from the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C.

In 2008, then-U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice awarded Brubeck the U.S. State Department’s Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy for offering “a positive vision of hope, opportunity and freedom through a musical language that is truly American.”

And with all of his awards and jazz-related achievements, this father of six children, four of whom are musicians who have played with him professionally, describes “Upon This Rock” and The Light in the Wilderness as his greatest musical accomplishments.

A PBS video on Brubeck's sacred music and conversion to Catholicism that Deacon Greg found. 

this great piece by Bob Faw on Dave Brubeck, and it gives more dimension to his religiously themed jazz music, including his legendary jazz Mass called “To Hope!” 

Do watch.

Posted by Jill Fallon at December 6, 2012 6:55 PM | Permalink