As a long time reader of the Economist, I am frequently struck by the sheer beauty of the obituaries it publishes. In this week’s print edition, the subject is Dave Brubeck, who died on December 5th at the age of 91. Here are a few excerpts (those who want to read the obituary in its entirety can find it here):
Give him a few bars of Beethoven, and he’d weave a jazz riff through it; but put him in the middle of a jazz set, and he would come up with classic counterpoint as strict as the “Goldberg Variations”. Sing him a tune in C, and his left hand would play it in E flat; give him a jazz line in standard 4/4 time and he would play 5/4, 7/4, even 13/4 against it, relentlessly underpinning the adventure with big fat blocks of chords. He was a jazzman who struggled to read notation and who graduated on a wing and an ear from his college music school; and he was also, in later years, a composer of cantatas and oratorios who was proud to have written a Credo for Mozart’s unfinished “Mass in C minor”.
Whenever he sat down at the piano— an instrument as satisfying, to him, as a whole orchestra—his aim was to get somewhere he had never got before. It didn’t matter how tired he was, how beat-up he felt. He wanted to be so inspired in his explorations that he would get beyond himself. He liked to quote Louis Armstrong, who once told a woman who asked what he thought about as he played: “Lady, if I told you, your mind would explode.” In his own words, he played dangerously, prepared to make any number of mistakes in order to create something he had never created before.
Dave Brubeck, RIP.