Earlier this summer I was privileged enough to hear the famous jazz musician Dave Brubeck live at the National Cathedral. Now lest you think I’m naturally this cultured and cosmopolitan, truth be told, I’m largely a cretin who just happens to get asked on dates from time to time by fellows who are either more culturally sophisticated or else trying very hard to make me believe they are.
And so it worked out, that I got to hear one of America’s best-loved jazz quartets allure and surprise an audience with numbers like Brubeck’s famous Take Five and his lesser-known musical hybrid cantata called The Gates of Justice that cross-pollinates the various strains and sounds of Hebrew liturgical texts and MLK speeches with Negro Spirituals, jazz syncopation, and Hebraic modes. Front-row seats gave me a chance to observe the pleasure, concentration, and at times pure mischief, on the faces of an 86 year-old Brubeck and the spritely, by comparison, saxophonist, bassist, and drummer.
The parts that fascinated me most, however, were the sections of jazz improv. A comfortable rhythm nodded a steady approval with a tip of the high-hat, and a tah----tah-tah-tah, before Brubeck, the composer would flirt with that saucy melody, whispering reassurances to her as he meandered down the cool ivory steps. The saxophonist would listen, and then beckon the melody his way, first teasingly, and then more forwardly, until soon he was twirling her, dipping her, and even vaulting her in the air. But before long the bassist would ease his way onto the floor, and with a gentlemanly tap, and a strong wrist, roll that melody into his arms, and fold her into a tight-hipped tango. And so the night went on, with music swirling around me, moving with the greatest ease and deference from one skilled player to the next.Read more