Death of a Christian jazzman

Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck died at age 92.  The man and his quartet showed sheer genius.  My old guitar teacher once sat in with him and it was one of the highlights of his life.  Brubeck was a Christian who composed a great deal of sacred music.  From David A. Anderson:

“I approached the composition as a prayer,” jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck said of his “To Hope! A Celebration,” a contemporary setting for the Roman Catholic Mass, “concentrating upon the phrases, trying to probe beneath the surface, hoping to translate into music the powerful words which have grown through the centuries.”

Probing beneath the surface marked all of Brubeck’s music, from the revolutionary 1959 polyrhythmic album “Time Out,” to his oratorio, “A Light in the Wilderness,” and his setting of Thomas Aquinas’ hymn, “Pange Lingua.”

Brubeck is best known in the secular jazz world for his startling compositions using different time signatures, such as 5/4 time in the classic “Take Five,” or the mixture of 9/8 time and the more traditional 4/4 rhythm of “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Both pieces are on the “Time Out” album, the first jazz album to sell 1 million copies and still one of the best-selling.

Religious faith, however, was never far from Brubeck’s creative mind. . . .

In a 2009 interview with the PBS television program Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, Brubeck said his service in World War II convinced him “something should be done musically to strengthen man’s knowledge of God.”

That experience gave him the idea of an oratorio based on the Ten Commandments, particularly the “Thou shalt not kill” part.

But he did not act on the idea of writing sacred music until 1965, when he wrote a short piece, “Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled,” to comfort his brother, Howard, whose son had died of a brain tumor at age 16.

That piece was incorporated into 1968’s “A Light in the Wilderness,” his first full-scale sacred composition.

That was followed by a series of pieces including 1969’s “The Gates of Justice,” a choral work using words from Martin Luther King, Jr.; “Truth is Fallen,” in 1971; “La Fiesta de la Posada” in 1975; and “Beloved Son,” in 1978.

“When I write a piece, a sacred piece, I’m looking hard and trying to discover what I’m about, and what my parents were about and the world is about,” he told Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

Raised a Protestant although never baptized, Brubeck became a Roman Catholic in 1980 after completing “To Hope!”, a Mass setting commissioned by the Catholic periodical, Our Sunday Visitor.

via The sacred ran through jazz legend Dave Brubeck’s music – The Washington Post.

Brubeck shows that it’s certainly possible and desirable to have contemporary Christian music, even to have it used in worship–if it could only be rich and complex and artistic and in accord with the Christian sensibility, unlike much of what passes for that genre today.

Here is his “Celebration” Mass. It’s just over 10 minutes, but keep listening for the choral parts and for when his quartet breaks in (around the 4 minute mark).

Here is “Take Five,” Brubeck’s most famous piece.  (Pick out the 5/4 time.)  Brubeck right now is taking five before the Resurrection.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Josh Coley

    Thanks very much for posting the article & videos about Dave Brubeck. I’d not heard the Celebration Mass before nor this particular version of Take Five.

  • Josh Coley

    Thanks very much for posting the article & videos about Dave Brubeck. I’d not heard the Celebration Mass before nor this particular version of Take Five.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Yes, thank you. Didn’t know this about him. I’ll have to have my jazz trio look into doing one of his pieces.

  • http://enterthevein.wordpress.com J. Dean

    Yes, thank you. Didn’t know this about him. I’ll have to have my jazz trio look into doing one of his pieces.

  • Jimmy Veith

    Thanks for the post. Listening to these two pieces of music was a great way to start off the day.

  • Jimmy Veith

    Thanks for the post. Listening to these two pieces of music was a great way to start off the day.

  • Mary

    Oh my goodness! The Celebration Mass. That was amazing! The musicians obviously loved playing with Dave Brubeck. Did you catch the looks on their faces? Awe. And the conductor? Also loved the expressions on Brubeck’s face while the saxophonist was soloing.

  • Mary

    Oh my goodness! The Celebration Mass. That was amazing! The musicians obviously loved playing with Dave Brubeck. Did you catch the looks on their faces? Awe. And the conductor? Also loved the expressions on Brubeck’s face while the saxophonist was soloing.

  • Booklover

    Yes, it was a jubilant way to start the day. And I’ve ordered my first Dave Brubeck piano book.

  • Booklover

    Yes, it was a jubilant way to start the day. And I’ve ordered my first Dave Brubeck piano book.

  • SKPeterson

    As an interesting aside, Take Five was written by Paul Desmond, the saxophonist and Brubeck’s longtime musical partner. Desmond wrote it for Paul Morello, the drummer. All of which does nothing to diminish Brubeck’s talent or influence across 6+ decades of American musical culture. Here’s Blue Rondo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2htbaJFEAXQ

    and an interesting sort of tribute from Donald Fagen, of Steely Dan:

  • SKPeterson

    As an interesting aside, Take Five was written by Paul Desmond, the saxophonist and Brubeck’s longtime musical partner. Desmond wrote it for Paul Morello, the drummer. All of which does nothing to diminish Brubeck’s talent or influence across 6+ decades of American musical culture. Here’s Blue Rondo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2htbaJFEAXQ

    and an interesting sort of tribute from Donald Fagen, of Steely Dan:

  • http://Www.gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Remember the three “B”s, Bach, Beethoven, and Brubeck.

    I was fortunate to hear him twice, back in 1986 in Evansville, IN and recently here in Albuquerque.

  • http://Www.gslcnm.com Pastor Spomer

    Remember the three “B”s, Bach, Beethoven, and Brubeck.

    I was fortunate to hear him twice, back in 1986 in Evansville, IN and recently here in Albuquerque.

  • Steve Bauer

    Brubeck wrote some wonderful music for the church. I do question whether “rich and complex” is the only form for church music to take. Greogorian chant is beautiful and appropriate but can hardly be described as “rich and complex”.

  • Steve Bauer

    Brubeck wrote some wonderful music for the church. I do question whether “rich and complex” is the only form for church music to take. Greogorian chant is beautiful and appropriate but can hardly be described as “rich and complex”.

  • Paul Schrieber

    Dave Brubeck was a fantastic musician. Joe Morello’s solos were the epitome of class and finesse.

  • Paul Schrieber

    Dave Brubeck was a fantastic musician. Joe Morello’s solos were the epitome of class and finesse.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m sorry, but that “Celebration Mass” bit was … not good. It was like someone switching radio stations, from the classical station, to the Catholic station (briefly), to the Broadway show-tunes station, to the jazz station (which they stayed on for quite some time). Disjointed.

    That wasn’t, of course, the whole mass — just a part of it. Based on the very few words in it, I’d guess it was the section called “All My Hope”. Certainly couldn’t fit a whole mass into 10 minutes with lyrical sparseness like that.

    I suppose I’m not supposed to say things like this in a thread about Brubeck’s death, but I much prefer Vince Guaraldi’s Grace Cathedral Concert. Sorry, I can’t find a YouTube version, but the whole thing is available on Spotify. Brubeck may have been Guaraldi’s superior — I don’t think I’m qualified to say — but Guaraldi’s mass is, I think, a better approach. For one thing, as the introduction makes clear, it was intended not as a performance, but merely as accompaniment. The church audience was invited to sing along. Because, you know, it’s a mass. Just one with music that is quite obviously Guaraldi’s. And yet very respectful of the tradition of it all.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    I’m sorry, but that “Celebration Mass” bit was … not good. It was like someone switching radio stations, from the classical station, to the Catholic station (briefly), to the Broadway show-tunes station, to the jazz station (which they stayed on for quite some time). Disjointed.

    That wasn’t, of course, the whole mass — just a part of it. Based on the very few words in it, I’d guess it was the section called “All My Hope”. Certainly couldn’t fit a whole mass into 10 minutes with lyrical sparseness like that.

    I suppose I’m not supposed to say things like this in a thread about Brubeck’s death, but I much prefer Vince Guaraldi’s Grace Cathedral Concert. Sorry, I can’t find a YouTube version, but the whole thing is available on Spotify. Brubeck may have been Guaraldi’s superior — I don’t think I’m qualified to say — but Guaraldi’s mass is, I think, a better approach. For one thing, as the introduction makes clear, it was intended not as a performance, but merely as accompaniment. The church audience was invited to sing along. Because, you know, it’s a mass. Just one with music that is quite obviously Guaraldi’s. And yet very respectful of the tradition of it all.

  • Dan Kempin

    Now THAT is what a great drum solo looks like. (Did you see his left hand during the first part of that solo?) Jazz drummers rock, and the great rock drummers learned from jazz.

    (Plus he looks like Elwood Blues without the hat.)

  • Dan Kempin

    Now THAT is what a great drum solo looks like. (Did you see his left hand during the first part of that solo?) Jazz drummers rock, and the great rock drummers learned from jazz.

    (Plus he looks like Elwood Blues without the hat.)

  • Tom Hering

    Speaking of drum solos, I got to see both Buddy Rich and Ginger Baker (Cream) live. In Central Wisconsin, decades ago. Just braggin’.

  • Tom Hering

    Speaking of drum solos, I got to see both Buddy Rich and Ginger Baker (Cream) live. In Central Wisconsin, decades ago. Just braggin’.

  • SKPeterson

    Todd – Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Suite is a modern classic. I found this which may be the Grace Mass:

  • SKPeterson

    Todd – Guaraldi’s Charlie Brown Suite is a modern classic. I found this which may be the Grace Mass:

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SK (@13), yes, that was from the Guaraldi mass.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    SK (@13), yes, that was from the Guaraldi mass.

  • Grace

    Dr. Veith –

    BEAUTIFUL, than you for posting the video’s.

  • Grace

    Dr. Veith –

    BEAUTIFUL, than you for posting the video’s.

  • Grace

    @ 15

    It should read:

    BEAUTIFUL, thank you for posting the video’s.

  • Grace

    @ 15

    It should read:

    BEAUTIFUL, thank you for posting the video’s.

  • Hanni

    So wonderful, Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and Gerry Mulligan. I listen to them a lot, could anything be better than Take 5, or Bossa Nova?

  • Hanni

    So wonderful, Brubeck, Paul Desmond, and Gerry Mulligan. I listen to them a lot, could anything be better than Take 5, or Bossa Nova?

  • helen

    A good post.
    Thanks for the links. Aside from your intention, I enjoyed the Charlie Brown videos. :)

  • helen

    A good post.
    Thanks for the links. Aside from your intention, I enjoyed the Charlie Brown videos. :)

  • Ken

    Thanks for posting the clip with Take 5. Years ago, I attended a drum camp with Joe Morello, who was nearly blind. His seeing-eye dog sat obediently next to him throughout his clinics, waiting to retrieve a dropped stick. During one class, Morello was trying to teach some challenging jazz beats when he was drowned out by Carmine Appice’s rock drumming clinic in the next classroom. Morello stopped, sighed, flipped his sticks over and started in on the same rock beat. He then became a blur of motion as he outplayed Appice on his small jazz drum set. After the last cymbal crash he stopped, set down his sticks and petted his dog. Then, the door of our classroom swung open, and the shaggy head of Carmen Appice appeared. His mouth hung open in an astonished grin. When we told Joe Morello who it was, he laughed and invited Appice and his class in for a joint session. It was one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life.

  • Ken

    Thanks for posting the clip with Take 5. Years ago, I attended a drum camp with Joe Morello, who was nearly blind. His seeing-eye dog sat obediently next to him throughout his clinics, waiting to retrieve a dropped stick. During one class, Morello was trying to teach some challenging jazz beats when he was drowned out by Carmine Appice’s rock drumming clinic in the next classroom. Morello stopped, sighed, flipped his sticks over and started in on the same rock beat. He then became a blur of motion as he outplayed Appice on his small jazz drum set. After the last cymbal crash he stopped, set down his sticks and petted his dog. Then, the door of our classroom swung open, and the shaggy head of Carmen Appice appeared. His mouth hung open in an astonished grin. When we told Joe Morello who it was, he laughed and invited Appice and his class in for a joint session. It was one of the most amazing musical experiences of my life.

  • LAJ

    What a cool story, Ken. Thanks for sharing.

  • LAJ

    What a cool story, Ken. Thanks for sharing.

  • Dan Kempin

    Wow, Ken. That’s amazing. Aside from the appearance of Carmen Appice, how did you end up in a drum clinic with Joe Morello? Where was that and when?

    Way cool.

  • Dan Kempin

    Wow, Ken. That’s amazing. Aside from the appearance of Carmen Appice, how did you end up in a drum clinic with Joe Morello? Where was that and when?

    Way cool.

  • Ken

    Dan,

    In the mid to late seventies, the Ludwig drum company offered a drum camp at UW Eau Claire. The music industry’s top drummers, including Morello and Appice, were the camp’s instructors. Attendees had classes with them throughout the week, studying rock, jazz, big band, etc. It was exciting. And a great education. And I can still twirl my sticks like Appice-only without the big hair and beads!

  • Ken

    Dan,

    In the mid to late seventies, the Ludwig drum company offered a drum camp at UW Eau Claire. The music industry’s top drummers, including Morello and Appice, were the camp’s instructors. Attendees had classes with them throughout the week, studying rock, jazz, big band, etc. It was exciting. And a great education. And I can still twirl my sticks like Appice-only without the big hair and beads!

  • Dan Kempin

    Wow, Ken. I bet you also got to know Ron Keezer. I learned from him in the 80s at a jazz camp in Shell Lake, WI. (Actually, I’ve probably forgotten all that I learned, but it sure was fun.) I always loved to watch him play.

  • Dan Kempin

    Wow, Ken. I bet you also got to know Ron Keezer. I learned from him in the 80s at a jazz camp in Shell Lake, WI. (Actually, I’ve probably forgotten all that I learned, but it sure was fun.) I always loved to watch him play.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Wait, Dan (@23), you’re a drummer, too?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Wait, Dan (@23), you’re a drummer, too?

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD,

    Is . . . was . . . who’s to say, really? I supppose it all depends on what “is” is. Is there a certain standard prerequisite to the title, or is it “once a drummer, always a drummer?” Am I automatically judged to have percussionistic tendencies if RUSH was once my favorite band and I still know who Sheila E is? Can’t I like Joe Morello or Max Roach without all of these questions? Why can I no longer retain the mystery of my online persona that leads people to wonder whether I was, or was not, once a drummer? I’m tired of all this probing about my personal life and past identity as the drummer of that one hit wonder band from the 80s whose name you can’t quite remember! I don’t want to talk about all those years I spent doing infomercials for Jack Lalanne, or the decade I spent teaching Lutheran theology to Tibetan monks. The secret service is BEHIND me. I don’t WORK for them anymore. Can’t you just leave it alone?

    (Or perhaps a drummer is anyone who gets the following joke:)

    Q: How many drummers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A: Five. One to screw in the light bulb, and four to say, “I can do that.”

    Why . . . are you a drummer too?

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD,

    Is . . . was . . . who’s to say, really? I supppose it all depends on what “is” is. Is there a certain standard prerequisite to the title, or is it “once a drummer, always a drummer?” Am I automatically judged to have percussionistic tendencies if RUSH was once my favorite band and I still know who Sheila E is? Can’t I like Joe Morello or Max Roach without all of these questions? Why can I no longer retain the mystery of my online persona that leads people to wonder whether I was, or was not, once a drummer? I’m tired of all this probing about my personal life and past identity as the drummer of that one hit wonder band from the 80s whose name you can’t quite remember! I don’t want to talk about all those years I spent doing infomercials for Jack Lalanne, or the decade I spent teaching Lutheran theology to Tibetan monks. The secret service is BEHIND me. I don’t WORK for them anymore. Can’t you just leave it alone?

    (Or perhaps a drummer is anyone who gets the following joke:)

    Q: How many drummers does it take to screw in a light bulb?

    A: Five. One to screw in the light bulb, and four to say, “I can do that.”

    Why . . . are you a drummer too?

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Dan (@25), I will answer your question in code: Paradiddle, flam. Terry Bozzio. Matched grip (can’t do traditional, sorry). China boy, splash. Tam-tam.

    Actually, I don’t know much about Bozzio (or Max Roach), except that I once subscribed to Modern Drummer, and names like theirs (and not, oddly, the names of drummers in bands I actually listened to) were frequently mentioned. I don’t think I learned much from it — I was in junior high — but I guess it was kind of an identity thing.

    And, yeah, Rush. We’ve all been there. As long as we’re talking about their back catalog, I can respect that. If we ever meet in person, we will signal to each other by tapping out “YYZ”.

    I haven’t played my drums in years (kids; napping), but I still consider myself a drummer. After all, drummers are the only instrumentalists that don’t need to have an instrument with them. As long as you have hands and a belly or a tabletop, you can perform.

    Also, my bass drum still has “Psalm 150:5″ on the front. You know, splashes, crashes, rides, sizzles, china boys, …

    Anyhow, this is fairly contrary to your approach to personal information, but I just Googled my old band and found that, to my surprise, someone actually uploaded our one album to the Web, so you can actually listen to it (may I recommend “Burrito Hell”?). Please don’t stalk me now. … Ah, just clicked around, and it turns out the trombone player uploaded it. I guess that explains it.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Dan (@25), I will answer your question in code: Paradiddle, flam. Terry Bozzio. Matched grip (can’t do traditional, sorry). China boy, splash. Tam-tam.

    Actually, I don’t know much about Bozzio (or Max Roach), except that I once subscribed to Modern Drummer, and names like theirs (and not, oddly, the names of drummers in bands I actually listened to) were frequently mentioned. I don’t think I learned much from it — I was in junior high — but I guess it was kind of an identity thing.

    And, yeah, Rush. We’ve all been there. As long as we’re talking about their back catalog, I can respect that. If we ever meet in person, we will signal to each other by tapping out “YYZ”.

    I haven’t played my drums in years (kids; napping), but I still consider myself a drummer. After all, drummers are the only instrumentalists that don’t need to have an instrument with them. As long as you have hands and a belly or a tabletop, you can perform.

    Also, my bass drum still has “Psalm 150:5″ on the front. You know, splashes, crashes, rides, sizzles, china boys, …

    Anyhow, this is fairly contrary to your approach to personal information, but I just Googled my old band and found that, to my surprise, someone actually uploaded our one album to the Web, so you can actually listen to it (may I recommend “Burrito Hell”?). Please don’t stalk me now. … Ah, just clicked around, and it turns out the trombone player uploaded it. I guess that explains it.

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD,

    Well, that explains the undefinable bond I have sensed between us. There’s no sense like drummer sense. The rest of them just don’t understand.

    It brings back a lot of great memories, though. Kind of makes me want to get out the old 7As and make some noise again.

    And since you mentioned it–you probably already know this, but I just learned that “YYZ” was inspired by the morse code call sign for the Toronto airport. I found that fascinating.

  • Dan Kempin

    tODD,

    Well, that explains the undefinable bond I have sensed between us. There’s no sense like drummer sense. The rest of them just don’t understand.

    It brings back a lot of great memories, though. Kind of makes me want to get out the old 7As and make some noise again.

    And since you mentioned it–you probably already know this, but I just learned that “YYZ” was inspired by the morse code call sign for the Toronto airport. I found that fascinating.

  • Dan Kempin

    Hey, tODD, I’m impressed. I like your sound. I wasn’t expecting the horn section. Tight. I think you’ll make my playlist for a while. It’s a great find for someone as eclectic as myself.

    Can I use “Honor your mother” for confirmation instruction? (Though it does vaguely evoke a Monty Python ditty.)

  • Dan Kempin

    Hey, tODD, I’m impressed. I like your sound. I wasn’t expecting the horn section. Tight. I think you’ll make my playlist for a while. It’s a great find for someone as eclectic as myself.

    Can I use “Honor your mother” for confirmation instruction? (Though it does vaguely evoke a Monty Python ditty.)

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Dan (@28), thanks. In case you’re not familiar with the genre, that’s ska, for which the horns are pretty standard. And the clipped guitar playing upbeats. It may remind you of reggae, but ska actually came first, and is something of a chimera of rock music and Jamaican calypso rhythms.

    Further assuming on your ignorance, the “Honor” track is mislabeled, and is a cover of Desmond Dekker’s “Honour Your Mother and Father”, which was part of a set of (surprisingly religious) ska songs from Jamaica from the the early 60s. (Dekker was likely referenced in the Beatles’ quasi-ska tune “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” with the line “Desmond has a barrow in the market-place”. I have often wondered if the “Molly” from that song is actually a reference, with a British accent, to Bob Marley, who was a ska musician before he became famous for reggae.)

    Other covers in our album include the Troggs’ “Girl in Black” (also from the 60s; they are most famous for “Wild Thing”) and the theme from the TV show “Secret Agent Man” … um, also from the 60s. But the album was recorded in the mid-90s. During ska’s “third wave” of revival.

    Anyhow, I think I was more of a 5A kind of guy myself. But yes, let us embrace this now-explicit kinship.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com tODD

    Dan (@28), thanks. In case you’re not familiar with the genre, that’s ska, for which the horns are pretty standard. And the clipped guitar playing upbeats. It may remind you of reggae, but ska actually came first, and is something of a chimera of rock music and Jamaican calypso rhythms.

    Further assuming on your ignorance, the “Honor” track is mislabeled, and is a cover of Desmond Dekker’s “Honour Your Mother and Father”, which was part of a set of (surprisingly religious) ska songs from Jamaica from the the early 60s. (Dekker was likely referenced in the Beatles’ quasi-ska tune “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” with the line “Desmond has a barrow in the market-place”. I have often wondered if the “Molly” from that song is actually a reference, with a British accent, to Bob Marley, who was a ska musician before he became famous for reggae.)

    Other covers in our album include the Troggs’ “Girl in Black” (also from the 60s; they are most famous for “Wild Thing”) and the theme from the TV show “Secret Agent Man” … um, also from the 60s. But the album was recorded in the mid-90s. During ska’s “third wave” of revival.

    Anyhow, I think I was more of a 5A kind of guy myself. But yes, let us embrace this now-explicit kinship.

  • Dan Kempin

    Thanks for the explanation. Before last night I was not aware of the whole ska scene, let alone the Texas ska scene, let alone that you were a part of it. I like the sound, though, and I guess that is what matters.

  • Dan Kempin

    Thanks for the explanation. Before last night I was not aware of the whole ska scene, let alone the Texas ska scene, let alone that you were a part of it. I like the sound, though, and I guess that is what matters.


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