Loving Dave Brubeck

May 12, 2013 § 3 Comments

Eugene Wright

Eugene Wright

Yesterday, the Cathedral hosted a memorial service for Dave Brubeck, the great jazz pianist and composer—and in Bill Clinton’s words (via letter read aloud) “world-class human being”— who died last December. What a thrilling occasion! Brubeck’s widow, Iola, asked us to take joy in the music and it wasn’t possible not to. Silly Charles thought there would be too much talking and he’d fall asleep. Nope. Two hours passed like a few minutes.

The Brubeck brothers, Brubeck bass player Eugene Wright, and many great musicians, including Chick Corea, Paquito D’Rivera, Roy Hargrove, Branford Marsalis, Bill Charlap, Renee Rosnes, Randy Brecker and Jon Faddis played, as well as the Cathedral’s own Artist in Residence Paul Winter. Tony Bennett made a surprise appearance, talking to the crowd after we listened to a recording of him singing (spontaneously) with Brubeck at a White House concert in 1962. This “lost” recording will be issued later this month.

Get it.

The sons were all excellent (appropriately featured on “Cathy’s Waltz” written for their sister Cathy, “In Your Own Sweet Way” for Iola, and “For Iola”), as were the young musicians, New York-based alumnae of the Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific. They played “Blue Rondo a La Turk” and I do love that song.

Chick Corea played “Strange Meadowlark,” perfectly evoking the feeling of being 17, spending all of a June day by a river in Amesbury, Massachusetts, while LSD focused and elaborated on the ever-changing sound of the water, the sun filtering through leaves, the volume and mood of the air, and the intersecting patterns all these made—an effortless unfolding of delight, layers and ribbons of delight, time without end. I’m not 17 anymore, so luckily there’s music.

Paquito D’Rivera lived up to Mark Ruffin’s description of him as “the best clarinetist in the world,” though admittedly I haven’t heard all that many (I’m very partial to Lee Konitz). Jon Faddis ended the concert with verve and passion, and Hilary Kole, a young singer who recorded with Dave in 2010, has a voice of surpassing strength and sweetness.

And of course there were stories. My favorite was about how Dave and his wife, Iola, met. They were both in college; he was in his senior year. His mother told him he had to attend at least one college dance before graduating. He asked his roommate who the smartest girl in the school was, and when told it was Iola Whitlock, he said, “That’s who I’m taking to the dance.” By the end of the evening, they’d decided to get married, promptly did so, and celebrated 70 years together before he died. Iola, one of four people to receive a standing ovation (Tony Bennett, Eugene Wright and George Wein were the others) talked about their first visit to the Cathedral—on Duke Ellington’s birthday in 1976, two years after Ellington’s Cathedral memorial service.

Though I would like all the jazz greats to live forever, if it should happen that they don’t, I hope their families hold memorials in the Cathedral. It was a great privilege to share the love, the history, the music. The music, especially.

Chick Corea (left)

Chick Corea (left)

Tony Bennett

Tony Bennett

Iola Brubeck and George Wein

Iola Brubeck and George Wein

Strange Meadowlark

What a strange meadow lark
to be singing oh so sweetly in the park
All alone meadow lark
are you dreaming of the moons that burned so bright
and of love in flight?
Can’t you sleep meadow lark?
Is there nothing left but whistling in the dark
so sad?
Was it love meadow lark?
Were the songs you sang last summer crazy mad?
Think of all you had.
A quiet nest up in the clouds where the soft winds blow.
Far from all the noisy crowds where the earthbound go.
Your wings have pressed against a star —
boundless were the skies.
You may have flown too high too far —
love is seldom wise.
Don’t you see meadow lark
though you try your call won’t turn another lark
in flight?
He has gone meadow lark.
You can sing your song until the dawn brings light —
sing with all your might. . . .
Don’t you see meadow lark
though you try your call won’t turn another lark
in flight?
He has gone meadow lark.
You can sing your song until the dawn brings light.
Sing with all your might.
Sing away the dark . . . little meadow lark, meadow lark, meadow lark.

lyrics by Iola Brubeck


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§ 3 Responses to Loving Dave Brubeck

  • John says:

    Fine column, Margaret.

  • Pensiuni Varatec

    This design is steller! You most certainly know how to keep a reader amused.
    Between your wit and your videos, I was almost moved to start
    my own blog (well, almost…HaHa!) Fantastic job. I really
    enjoyed what you had to say, and more than that, how you presented it.
    Too cool!

  • John Maass says:

    Dave Brubeck influenced my life beginning with hearing his composition Nomad from Jazz Impressions of Eurasia. I was just a kid. In a way, Dave Brubeck raised me by a kind of proxy, in his ethics, his music, his world view, his liner notes.

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