Today, the world of music, and particularly jazz, has suffered a profound loss. Dave Brubeck died today.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who will be writing an obituary or memory today. Dave Brubeck was one of the most influential artists to ever grace jazz music, and I feel fairly safe in saying that we will not see his like very soon again, or perhaps ever.
When I was younger and beginning my jazz experience, a relative gave me a fantastic set of CDs: Ken Burns “Jazz” collection, 5 CDs with some of the most classic recordings ever made. Right in the middle of disc 4, I hit “Take Five”. I was blown away. My natural inclination when I listen to music is to move or conduct along with it (you only have to ask my long-suffering wife about how much of an embarrassment I can be when I’m really enjoying a song, particularly in public).
But here was a song that I couldn’t easily fit to that sort of thing. I was 13 years old, and the concept of jazz itself was just starting to percolate through to my brain, let alone the idea of there being a viable 5/4 pattern.
Yet somehow it was catchy, in spite of the strangeness. Not catchy in the way that a modern, electro-synthesized pop song is catchy, with stale chord patterns and dumbed-down rhythmic ostinati capable of easy reproduction by any prospective listener. Catchy in a mysterious way, a song that leaves you trying to grasp at the fleeting echoes of recognition you get from a well-constructed tune, while still being unable to articulate the specifics. A song that displays talent, artistry, and technical mastery of one’s craft.
The solos, particularly Morello’s tasteful, rhythmically challenging drums, were another revelation. The internal sense of rhythm and melody required to generate the sort of polyrhythmic patterns that 5/4 generates spoke to me in an inspirational way, something to aspire towards.
From that moment on, I hunted down more Brubeck recordings, with some of my favourites being the ones that were strangest in conception or furthest from what one might call the ‘standards’. “Unsquare Dance”, from the album “Time Further Out”, never fails to put a smile of wonder on my face as the Quartet dances through shifting rhythms in a 7/4 feel that drives listeners insane with the tantalizing closeness to the swaddling comfort of 4/4 while being resolutely it’s own strange space.
Brubeck’s piano playing was always filled with emotion and technical mastery. Countless concerts over a career that spanned more than 6 decades (quite the milestone in jazz music) reinforced his well-deserved reputation as one of the all-time greats in the genre. He performed and created music for many celebrities and events, including the Pope’s 1987 visit to San Francisco. His sons followed him into music, with many well-deserved accolades to their names as well.
Dave Brubeck cannot be replaced or equalled. He was his own person who loved his art and gave everything he had to it. What other kind of character could keep up with concerts and tours well into his 8th decade of life? My life is not the only one that Brubeck’s tireless efforts made a mark on, and I am not the only one saddened by his passing.
But amidst the sadness, I can’t deny that Dave Brubeck worked extremely hard, and that work made the world a better place. Our world is better for having had his life in it. And like anyone else, he deserves to rest and have some time off from the magnificent efforts in his life, free of pain and worry.
Thanks, Dave. Rest in peace.