Remembering Jazz Legend Dave Brubeck
Even before the musician ‘joined the Catholic Church’ in 1980, faith imbued his work.
NORWALK, Conn. — Fans worldwide are paying tribute to Jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, who died of heart failure on Dec. 5 in Norwalk, Conn., just one day before his 92nd birthday.
His legendary career as a jazz musician spanned over six decades, beginning during his time as a member of a military band in World War II while under the command of Gen. George Patton.
Rising to popularity in the 1950s and early 1960s by touring college campuses, Brubeck was well known for his unique timing signatures and unorthodox rhythm.
His music is often recognized as the defining sound of “cool” or “West Coast” jazz, a term referring to the relaxed tempos found in the new style of music, as showcased in his quartet’s 1959 album Time Out, which featured the hits Blue Rondo à la Turk and Take 5.
Although he received numerous awards for his jazz music, often overlooked was Brubeck’s masterful career in sacred music.
Highlights included playing for Pope John Paul II during his 1987 visit to San Francisco and being awarded an honorary doctorate of sacred theology for his work from the University of Fribourg, Switzerland, in 2004.
Along with creating the first platinum-selling jazz album and being the second jazz recording artist to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, Brubeck was also a husband to his wife, Iola, since 1942 and father to six children, four of whom went on to become professional musicians.
In the 2001 PBS documentary Rediscovering Dave Brubeck, the musician explained his entrance into the Catholic faith.
He said he did not “convert” to Catholicism, but, rather, “joined the Catholic Church.”
After presenting his sacred music composition, To Hope! A Celebration, to several different religious authorities, a Catholic priest pointed out that it was missing the Our Father.
Brubeck insisted that the prayer was not needed in his piece, saying that he was leaving soon for a family vacation.
However, while in the Bahamas with his family shortly after, Brubeck said he awoke in the middle of the night and added the prayer.
After that, he recalled, “I joined the Catholic Church because I felt somebody’s trying to tell me something,” he said.
“Now, people say I converted. I didn’t convert to Catholicism, because I wasn’t anything to convert from. I just joined the Catholic Church.”
In a June 13, 2005, interview for the National Public Radio piece This I Believe, Brubeck explained his faith in “the ultimate victory of faith, hope and love in a world full of conflict and destruction.”
During his U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of Eastern Europe, Brubeck recalled being interviewed on Russian television and “skeptically” asked if peace in the world could ever be achieved.
“I told him that the starting point was for each of us to understand our own religious and cultural traditions, and then open our minds to others, seeking and acknowledging our common roots,” he said.
As a result, he wrote his choral composition based on the Ten Commandments, which is recognized in the Bible, the Torah and the Quran, he said.
“Others of the world’s great religions have a similar code of conduct as an essential part of their belief in a higher law,” he noted.
Brubeck’s other religious works include The Light in the Wilderness (1968) on the teachings of Christ; Gates of Justice (1969) about racial equality; Voice of the Holy Spirit: Tongues of Fire, a Marian reflection; and Upon This Rock (1987), an entrance for Pope John Paul II’s visit to San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
Brubeck received numerous awards for his music, including a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys in 1996; a National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Fellowship in 1999; recognition from the U.S. State Department in 2008; and a Kennedy Center Honor in 2009.
Brubeck is survived by his wife, five children and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.