The jazz world lost a giant this week in 91-year-old pianist Dave Brubeck, whose cool, understated “West Coast” style made it easy to overlook how innovative and complex his music really was. His fellow musicians and contemporaries — fans such as the great Miles Davis and others — understood it very well.
Brubeck joins an eclectic list of great musical figures who played their last earthly notes this year, absent an encore in the next world. They include Kitty Wells, Whitney Houston, Donna Summer, Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys, Robin Gibb, Levon Helm, the great Etta James, the equally magnificent Earl Scruggs and the less magnificent but still notable Davy Jones of the Monkees.
The breadth of that list is remarkable. A handful achieved fame and success in the mainstream world; others, like Brubeck, were influential giants within their genre but were too little noticed outside it. As Brubeck said in a 2010 interview, “If there’s a heaven, let it be a good place for all of us to jam together and have a wonderful, wonderful musical experience.”
With Little Davy on the maracas, no doubt.
One other note: I have often wondered what musical giants such as Mozart and Beethoven would have thought of jazz, if they had a chance to hear it. Would they “get it”? Would they appreciate the musicianship involved? Would they immediately try to borrow its innovations and complex rhythms?
Or — as I think quite likely — would it come across to them as mere noise? (With rock, I’d put that likelihood at 100 percent). I suspect Brubeck’s famous hit “Take Five”, with its muted yet radically different approach, would be a great place to launch such an experiment.
– Jay Bookman