The Legendary Brubeck, Ctd


This week the Dish marked the death of the jazz musician Dave Brubeck, rounding up a wide-range of remembrances of his life and music. Patrick Jarenwattananon covers another aspect of Brubeck's legacy – his religious music:

When he disbanded his classic quartet in the late 1960s, Brubeck had more opportunities to explore large-scale compositions. Much of his late career was spent developing pieces for chorus, orchestra, ballet and sometimes jazz combo, often in collaboration with his wife Iola. Several of these works were meditations on social justice; some overlapped with his interest in writing sacred music, including a Mass. 

An older piece by PBS explores what inspired Brubeck's spiritual compositions:

'Joy in the Morning was composed in the hospital at Yale, the night before I was going to have an angiogram,' Brubeck explains. 'And so I had my binder with me, and my doctor, Dr. Cohen, I didn't expect to see him at 10:30 at night, and I was writing away. And he came into the room, and he said, 'What's this?' And I said, 'Well, I'm writing something.' And he said, 'I've never had a patient the night before they're going to go downstairs early in the morning and have an angiogram, be writing music.' And I said, 'Oh, I'm writing this because I feel it would be the right thing to be doing, and I'm not able to sleep. I might as well be writing music.'

'But what I didn't tell him, is I'm writing about the operation. It was a Psalm that said, I'll paraphrase it, 'What can you do, O Lord? Can the dust praise Thee if you bury me six feet under? Who will praise Thee if you put me down in the pit? And joy will come in the morning.' It's all in the Psalm, and I'm looking at the Psalm, and writing the music, so that I'll have a good operation. And he, as the doctor, will do a good job. So then I dedicated that piece to Dr. Cohen, because it had all the things in that Psalm that I was worried about, and wanted to get over with.'

In Joy In the Morning, Brubeck literally transcribed the heartbeat inside of him. The opening section reflects the erratic beat of Brubeck's own arrhythmic heart and his trepidation before the operation. Then it moves to a joyous crescendo with a steady, strong new beat – representing his healthy heart and the new lease on life that Brubeck will have after the successful surgery.