The world lost one of its treasures yesterday when jazz legend Dave Brubeck died just one day shy of his 92nd birthday. Singing City's association and friendship with Dave goes back to May 1970, when the choir, with Dave at the piano, gave the premiere performance of The Gates of Justice at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia (photo above).
To music and jazz lovers, he is remembered for his "distinctive mixture of experimentation and accessibility that won over listeners who had been trained to the sonic dimensions of the three-minute pop single," says Ben Ratliff of the NY Times. He said of himself that he was a composer who happened to play the piano.
He was also a man of strong convictions, refusing to tour in South Africa in 1958, for example, when the contract stipulated that his band should be "all white." He composed The Gates of Justice in 1969. He wrote, "The essential message of The Gates of Justice is the brotherhood of man. Because of their long history of suffering, the Jew and Negro know better than any other people the consequences of hate and alienation. It is impossible to concern oneself with the history and tradition of either without feeling overwhelmed by the inequities and injustices which have pervaded all strata of society. The spiritual and emotional ties, born of suffering, which bind these people together, have much to teach all of us on this shrinking planet. It is the strength of such moral fiber that will be our ultimate salvation."
After the premiere, Samuel Singer of the Philadelphia Inquirer said" "But most of all, Brubeck's Gates of Justice, using words thousands of years old from the Old Testament, and quotations from such contemporaries as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Beatles, is a work for today, an eloquent plea for justice and brotherhood."
SC Artistic & Music Director Jeff Brillhart remembers: "My first encounter with Dave was in 1989 when he came to Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church for three performances of La Fiesta de la Posada. I was to meet him late on a Thursday morning, in the church. Excited, I went to the organ to practice what I was to play on Sunday morning, a wonderful work by Bach that all sorts of quick figurations in the hands. Unbeknownst to me, Dave entered the church quietly and settled in at the piano at the opposite end of the church. I neared the end of my Bach and out of nowhere, the piano roared to life, taking Bach's figures and moving into something new-Brubeck meets Bach. Astonished, I got off the bench, turned around and Dave roared! Every encounter with Dave since that first meeting was magical, with many warm conversations, much bawdy humor, and some serious talk as well. We met a giant and that giant changed us!"
Singing City performed Brubeck's Fiesta de la Posada in December 2003. It is a re-telling of the Christmas story with influences of both jazz and Mexican folk tunes. "The ethnic music," wrote Brubeck, "reflects those qualities I most admire in people...dignity in moments of tragedy, infectious high spirits in moments of joy, and an unshakable religious faith made evident in a strong sense of one's own worth and a deep respect for the shared values of one's group - family, church, village.
In May 2007, the choir again performed The Gates of Justice and premiered a new work, The Commandments, a work rooted in his experiences during WWII. In this archival video from the concert, Brubeck talks about the work.
Dave Brubeck touched many lives. All of us at Singing City will miss him and his passion for life, music, and people everywhere.