Dave Brubeck, requiescat in pace

by Kevin Birnbaum

The legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck died yesterday, one day shy of his 92nd birthday. His revolutionary 1959 album Time Out featured classic tracks like “Blue Rondo à la Turk” and “Take Five,” some of my favorite pieces ever.

In his later decades, much of Brubeck’s work reflected his deep-seated religious beliefs, and he became Catholic in 1980:

One of Dave’s major religious compositions is the mass To Hope! A Celebration. When Brubeck finished the piece, he was proud to play it for various religious officials. But a priest told him he had left the Our Father out of the mass, after the premiere.

“He was very disappointed,” Dave explained. “He said ‘I loved your mass, but you left out the Our Father.’ I said, ‘What’s the Our Father?’ because that doesn’t mean anything to me. I’m not a Catholic. And he said, ‘Our Father, who art in Heaven.’ And I said, ‘that’s The Lord’s Prayer.’ And the priest said ‘Well, in Catholicism, we call it the Our Father.’ So I said, ‘Well, nobody told me to write it, so I didn’t write it. I’m finished with The Mass, I’m going to the Bahamas with my family, and I’m going to take a vacation. I’ve been working very hard.’ So I get down there, and what happens? I dream the Our Father because a priest tells me I left it out. So I jump up in the middle of the night, and write it all down. And now it’s in The Mass.”

The event didn’t just revolutionize the piece; it changed Brubeck’s life. “I joined the Catholic Church, because I felt, somebody’s trying to tell me something,” he realized. “Now, people say I converted. I didn’t convert to Catholicism, because I wasn’t anything to convert from. I just joined the Catholic Church.”

Brubeck was awarded Notre Dame’s Laetare Medal in 2006, back before the university’s commencement ceremonies became so controversial. As you’ll see, he never stopped playing.