Ah, music. A magic beyond all we do here.
- Albus Dumbledore (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone; J. K. Rowling)

Dave Brubeck

Dave Brubeck is the last of the great jazz icons. Kenton, Getz, Davis, Gillespie, Coltrane…so many gone. And at 86 years of age, he plays as well as he ever has. Yesterday evening, Saturday 2 December, and with the current incarnation of his quartet and the Houston Chamber Choir, played his first concert in Houston, Texas in twenty years, and possibly the last he will ever do in our city.

The concert was given at Congregation Beth-Yeshurun, an appropriate venue for the repertoire of choral selections in the performance’s second half as well as for it’s 2,000 seat capacity (when the back part of the building (normally the dining/function area) is opened to the Sanctuary). The acoustics are pretty-much dead in that space, but for Brubeck’s purposes, the room’s sonic qualities were just fine.

The first half of the concert was solely the Dave Brubeck Quartet (Dave on piano, Bobby Militello on alto sax, Michael Moore on string bass, and Randy Jones on drums) doing selections. Before each concert, there is no “warm-up” session or any time taken out to decide what will be played. During the concert, Brubeck simply calls out the next song to be played. And, of course, they played Take Five, which, tonight, included a drum solo lasting about five minutes and had elsewhere funky things with chords I’d never heard before!

The second half of the show consisted of a healthy dose of Brubeck’s sacred choral works, beginning with All My Hope. Next came three selections from The Light in the Wilderness (1968): Forty Days, The Sermon on the Mount, and The Kingdom, during which I felt like I was inside a jazz song - the only time in my life I’ve felt like that.

Next came the sublime Lord, Lord from The Gates of Justice (1969). The words for this were based on I Kings 8: 27-30 and were penned by Dave’s wife of 64 years, Iola. Two brilliantly-sung solos in this piece by Cantor David Propis (of Congregation Beth-Yeshurun - he is a tenor) and African-American baritone Dorceal Duckens, made this music something to remember: a paen against injustice, racism, and intolerance and a call for understanding and mutual respect.

After that came the otherworldly Tantum Ergo from the Pange Lingua Variations (1983) - my favorite choral work of the evening, though hearing David and Dorceal sing makes me want to eat my words.

The evening ended with the rousing God’s Love made Visible from La Fiesta de la Posada (1975), a tune so meaty and perky at the same time, my conservative dad wants to sing it in church (he’s serious!)!

Dave Brubeck…what can I say? Now that I’ve met him, I can say that what you see is what you get: not an ounce of pretension, smugness, or arrogance in his body and all the healthy confidence mixed with humility in the world. He’s genuine.

He seemed to be very pleased with the way we sang his music, and to see him grinning from ear to ear wringing every last ounce of enjoyment from the moment was something to behold and to make one smile too - and I’m sure he is like that with every single concert he does. Dave Brubeck is a happy, happy man.

He is a phenomenal musician who has gathered around him some of the greatest jazz musicians in the world. Bobby, Michael, and Randy are the best at what they do, and they made it look easy. It came across very quickly that while it may be the Dave Brubeck Quartet, it’s not about Dave Brubeck. It’s about getting at people in a place where words and/or silence just can’t go. And that’s what music is all about.

I cannot let this post go by and not mention Russell Gloyd, Brubeck’s music director of three decades. Can you say, “stage presence”? With only a few words, he has an orchestra, choir, or whatever, wrapped lovingly around his little finger. He ran a wonderful rehearsal, and was dryly funny with more than a dash of wit to boot.

I could go on and on with just how special it was to have performed with this man. It’s times like this that I realize, once again, why I do music.


3 Responses to “Singing with Dave Brubeck: Houston Chamber Choir in concert”  

  1. 1 David Ragsdale

    It was a special night. One I will not forget. By the way, The Houston Chamber Choir was awesome. Good job.

  2. 2 Jeff

    Thanks, David, for being there.


  3. 3 Sybil Snowden

    This was an absolutely awesome concert! It brought me to tears but how can you both laugh and cry at the same time?!?I was singing (or trying to!) God’s Love Made Visible all the way home in the car. I, too, like your father, would love to have this at Mass.

    Was this concert recorded for future distribution?

    Dave is an incredible musician. He needed a little help on the steps but once he sat down at the piano, it was as if he was taken back in time - - the hands and fingers moved just as they always have! He is an inspiration to us all.

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