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NEWSMAKER-BRUBECK Oct-30-1996 (1,530 words) xxxn

Jazz pianist Brubeck takes five to talk about music

Jazz musician and composer Dave Brubeck. (CNS/Bob Roller)

By Mark Pattison
Catholic News Service

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- If, as Andy Warhol once said, everybody gets their 15 minutes of fame, then Dave Brubeck owes some folks. 

In a prolific career that has seen the jazz pianist record, by his own count, more than 100 albums, that would come to at least 4,000 minutes -- and counting -- of recorded music alone. 

One of his latest recordings is ``To Hope! A Celebration: A Mass in the Revised Roman Ritual.'' But the composition resulted in more than just more minutes of fame for Brubeck. 

It is what brought him into the Catholic Church. He wrote it in 1980 and finally got to record it last year. ``To Hope'' was released this September. 

Brubeck is also featured on the newly released ``Bending Towards the Light ... A Jazz Nativity,'' a live recording of the annual Christmas jazz pageant performed at Lincoln Center in New York. 

He also recently sat in on an album by fellow jazz pianist Marian McPartland. In October he was a special guest at a fund- raising concert in Washington for McPartland's ``Piano Jazz'' program, which airs on National Public Radio. 

And despite this output, there's stuff that Brubeck hasn't recorded -- never mind what alternate takes may be in different record company archives. 

First among the unrecorded works is the piece he wrote for Pope John Paul II's Mass at Candlestick Park in San Francisco during the pope's 1987 visit to the United States. 

Along the way, the 75-year-old jazzman also has picked up dozens of awards. The day of an interview with Catholic News Service in Washington, he was due in New York to pick up yet another award. 

Brubeck talked to CNS about his career, what has shaped his perspective and about his decision to become a Catholic while working on ``To Hope.'' 

``I was never converted. I wasn't anything. My mother baptized my two brothers Presbyterians, but she forgot to do it for me,'' he said. 

Brubeck was commissioned to do the composition by Our Sunday Visitor, a national Catholic weekly newspaper. 

``I told them I didn't want to do it, that I wasn't a Catholic and I didn't know anything about the Mass,'' Brubeck said. 

But Our Sunday Visitor's Ed Murray, who made the offer, ``just wouldn't take no for an answer,'' he recalled. ``When I'd say I didn't know anything about the Mass, he'd say, `Exactly what I want, it's a fresh view. Somebody who will come in and just look at this with fresh eyes.' So he wouldn't allow me to say no.'' 

Still uncertain, Brubeck stipulated to Murray that his work be looked at by Catholic liturgists and composers. ``They listened to what I had written. And they said, ``Tell Dave to continue and don't change a note.''' 

Murray would later become Brubeck's godfather when he was baptized into the church. 

The Mass, as commissioned by Our Sunday Visitor, was designed to be performed by a parish choir or as a concert piece -- as it was done at the Episcopal National Cathedral in Washington in 1995 for the recording. 

The musical setting of the Lord's Prayer for ``To Hope'' came to Brubeck in a dream. It was after he woke up and wrote down what he had dreamed as best as he could remember that he decided he would become a Catholic. 

Not that music comes to Brubeck in dreams all that often. But one particularly strong dream inspired the papal piece he wrote in 1987 -- another commission Brubeck had tried to refuse. 

``They called me late in the evening and they needed an answer right away, the next day. So I said no, and then I asked for the text,'' Brubeck said. ``And the text was, `Upon this rock I will build my church and the jaws of hell cannot prevail against it.' 

``So I'm thinking, `Now they want nine minutes on this one sentence. How am I going to do that?' I went to bed and in the middle of the night I thought the only way to do this is how Bach would have done it -- with a chorale and fugue,'' he continued. ``We can use the words over and over. I was dreaming the subject of the fugue. 

``And when I woke up I said, `Jeez, I've got it. This is the way I can do it, is with a chorale and fugue.' I think it's the best thing I've ever written.'' 

Brubeck has achieved a number of firsts. He was the first jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, in 1954; the first jazz performer to record an album with the digital technology now commonplace in recording studios; and the first jazz artist to earn a gold record, signifying a million copies sold, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet's ``Take Five'' in 1959. 

He wouldn't be the first recording artist to start his own record label, which he did with the Fantasy label in 1949, but he'd be close. The same is true for Brubeck's attempts to record on tape rather than acetate. 

That recording session was a disaster because of tape malfunctions; the tape format still had bugs yet to be worked out. 

But his combo was able to salvage something out of the session when ``we went back to acetate,'' Brubeck told CNS. ``You cut the wax and you could make four recordings on 78s, one after another. And they're still selling today, those same records.'' 

When asked if he could point to a particular period in his life that has influenced his work, Brubeck said that being in World War II shaped much of his perspective -- both serving in the war and surviving it. 

``After World War II, when I was able to get out of the Army, it was so great just to be free and alive,'' Brubeck said. ``From then on I just continued to work and to (be) thankful that I survived the war. That was the great turning point, getting through the war.'' 

What he saw in the war prompted Brubeck, always a jazz lover, to think about composing oratorios -- long, dramatic musical compositions that include arias, duets and choruses sung to orchestral accompaniment. 

``There was the German army and people that were basically Lutheran, and there was the Italian army that was basically Catholic, and (the) Judeo-Christian American Army all breaking these Ten Commandments,'' he said. ``And backed up by their governments in forgetting absolutely what their religion was all about. Isn't that terrible? Fifty-six million people died because they forgot ``Thou shalt not kill.'' 

He added, ``The big message is ignored by societies all over the world, cultures -- whether it's Muslim, they aren't paying attention to their religion; and Buddha said the crowning in light is to love your enemy. Six thousand years before Christ said this.'' 

Fame got in the way of creating the oratorios he thought about, but later Brubeck was able to parlay that fame into writing those as well as classical pieces. 

During his career he's avoided the reputation many jazz musicians have for drug use, drinking and other personal failures, but Brubeck maintains that such an image of jazz musicians is undeserved. 

``You find that anesthesiologists are more apt to be hooked on drugs. Police, dentists, and then you might get to jazz music,'' he said. 

``When I worked as a cowboy there were guys who spent everything they made Saturday night when they could go into town and they drank up their week's wages. So how can you say that musicians are any worse than any part of society?''Brubeck added. 

``And I've seen situations where a whole company of soldiers were hooked, including the officers, because they were around drugs in the Islands in which they had to go to in World War II and the climate is so bad -- and I mean not just the climate of heat and rain and horrible conditions but the climate in which you haven't got too much time to live -- you had guys who started drinking. I've seen guys drink so much of that alcohol that's used in the hospitals, and mix it with tomato juice.'' 

When it comes to commissions, Brubeck said he gets ``more than I want. More than I take.'' 

``I got one two days ago. I'll have to think over it because's there too many. I haven't got time to keep up with all the projects,'' he noted. But Brubeck carries a portable synthesizer keyboard -- with headphones -- to compose and arrange while he's on the road. 

Brubeck's two brothers also chose music as a career, although neither went the performance route that Dave did. But Brubeck's four sons followed in their father's footsteps. 

``My next record next year will be with four sons,'' Brubeck said. For a time, the Dave Brubeck Quartet consisted of Brubeck and three of the boys. Youngest son Matthew was ``too young at the time,'' his father said. ``Now he's 33.'' 

Is his sons' success nepotism? Talent? Family feeling? ``Well, they wouldn't be out there if they couldn't play. Believe me, they can play. They can compose, they can teach,'' Brubeck said, sounding more like a proud father than a living jazz legend.


Copyright (c) 1996 Catholic News Service/USCCB. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or otherwise distributed.
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