Dave Brubeck died yesterday one day short of his 92nd birthday. The many obituaries celebrate his contributions to music, and not just jazz. After writing a commissioned mass in 1980 Dave Brubeck became a Catholic and continued to write music intended for sacred purposes. In 2006, he was interviewed for Commonweal and responded to a question about music in worship:
Ian Marcus Corbin: Does the modern Christian worshiper lose anything of value as more intricate, studied compositions are displaced by less complex pop- or folk-style songs in many Christian churches?
Dave Brubeck: The use of rock, folk, or pop music serves a purpose. It gets people into the church. But an inexperienced guitar player who doesn’t have much to say, for example, can make me wish to leave the church immediately, whereas one great jazz or classical guitarist can confirm that I will have a spiritual experience in the church. There are a lot of people on the lowest rung of Jacob’s Ladder, and we must somehow reach down, give them a hand, and make them want to climb. A little really good music never hurt anyone. And when people are given good music they can grow spiritually and even discover they like it. For example, why is Handel’s Messiah performed year after year, reaching millions of people? Every year it gathers more listeners, some new, some who make it part of their Christmas experience. With many repetitions it has become a tradition shared by people on all levels of music appreciation. I think the church should strive to give parishioners good music. Music is as necessary for worship as a building with a beautiful altar, artwork, and stained-glass windows. Together they create an environment conducive to worship and contemplation. We are not in church for entertainment, but to worship.
From To Hope: A Celebration:
Mollie Hemingway writes about "The soul in Dave Brubeck’s jazz," from which:
PBS’ inestimable Religion & Ethics Newsweekly reviewed Brubeck’s sacred works a couple of years ago in a deeply moving interview. Talking about a mass he wrote, interviewer Bob Faw asks him about his approach:
FAW: Sometimes, says Brubeck, the music shapes the text. Sometimes, he says, it’s just the opposite.
FAW: I heard you at one point say “my basic approach is to sing the text until something seems right.”
BRUBECK: Yeah, that’s it: “All my hope, all my hope is in you, oh Lord, you are my rock and my strength.”
FAW: As for those lyrics, it turns out that’s the realm of Dave Brubeck’s wife.
BRUBECK: My wife was driving, and I said, “I’ve finished this.” And she said, “No, you haven’t finished it.” And I said, “Well, what did I leave out?” And she said, “God’s love made visible. He is invincible.”
“God’s love made visible.” So that’s the way it finished. [more]
Brubeck thought that jazz and democracy are similar in a very significant way:
Brubeck believed that jazz presented the best face of America to the world.
"Jazz is about freedom within discipline," he said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press. "Usually a dictatorship like in Russia and Germany will prevent jazz from being played because it just seemed to represent freedom, democracy and the United States.
"Many people don't understand how disciplined you have to be to play jazz. ... And that is really the idea of democracy — freedom within the Constitution or discipline. You don't just get out there and do anything you want."