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Sombre day for composers – take two

Two ice-break composers died today.

Dave Brubeck, a classically trained composer, single-handedly defined modern jazz.

Jonathan Harvey, an English church chorister of the old school, saved electronic music from advancing desuetude.

(photo: (c) Maurice Foxall)

Brubeck’s signature work was Take Five (actually written by Paul Desmond and performed by the Dave Brubeck Quartet). Harvey’s was Mortuos plango, vivos voco – the first masterpiece to be written in Boulez’s Ircam, as timely and epoch-making, in its modest way, as Stockhausen’s Gesang der j√ľnglinge 25 years earlier.

Both were kind and gentle souls. Bruckeck was 91, Harvey 73.

Their music will outlast us all.

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  1. Great loss to the jazz world, though I don’t think anyone can lay claim to defining modern jazz, it’s such a vast creature. Miles Davis just as influential in my opinion – just think of all the modern players whose careers he launched. Add to that probably the most influential and brilliant album, Kind of Blue.

  2. Tom Moore says:

    Yes, Brubeck will be missed, but his influence on the subsequent development of jazz was almost nil.

    • Art Kavanagh says:

      While Norman’s “single-handedly” can’t be taken as literally true, Brubeck has been even more influential and significant than he’s often given credit for having been. I have in mind particularly his use of then-unusual time signatures which have become an essential part of what we think of as jazz. If we have stopped noticing how influential he was, that’s a mark of how successful his influence has been.

  3. Jonathan was a friend and mentor to me, blessed with serenity, and patience, and an ear for things beyond what most people are capable of perceiving. I recommend his book ‘Music and Inspiration’. A very sad, but also reflective day for contemporary music. I know he will have died feeling completely at piece with himself. . .

  4. Ian Gibson says:

    Saddened that JH isn’t considered a sufficiently important composer for his passing to have made the mainstream news. Seriously powerful composer who produced some of his best work in very recent times, and a top gent to work with too.

  5. Sorry, yr statement that Brubeck single-handed lay defined modern jazz is a gross over statement. But I’m sorry to see him go. He was a great musician. I remember buying the Take Five single as a lad over 50 years ago.

  6. Daniel Farber says:

    Brubeck succeeded in making a commercial success of modern jazz. If that constitutes “defining it,” so be it. That he was in any way an innovator, much less a “definer” of modern jazz would have been news to Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, and Bud Powell, and Monk, and Miles, and quite a few others as well. Norman is a good and very valuable man, but he is in over his head here.

  7. Michael O'Daniel says:

    No one musician defined modern jazz. But Brubeck was indeed an innovator in his use of polyrhythms and polytonality. He was not the only musician to do this, but he managed to swing while doing it and that made his music appealing to a worldwide audience (who would have thought that a tune in 5/4 would reach the top of the pop charts?). He was an outstanding improviser and collaborated with others similarly gifted (Paul Desmond, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Smith… ) Something few people are aware of is that Brubeck launched a second / parallel career at the age of 48 as a composer of sacred (and later secular) choral music, going on to compose over 50 such works. I had the privilege of working with him off and on in various endeavours for close to 50 years, and have my own thoughts as to his place among 20th century artists — but with respect to his credentials as a jazz composer / pianist / trailblazer, I would refer you to such people as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, John Lewis, Yusef Lateef and other contemporaries (“peer review” carries much more weight than my own opinions… )

  8. Stephen Carpenter says:

    For me, in the context of both these people is not quantification but of “what if” What if these two people had not done what they did? Where would jazz and vocal/choral/electronic music be? I can honestly celebrate that my understanding and perception of music is wider and deeper because of these and all the other artists.
    Could we set aside our discussions and just take the 15 minutes to listen to the music? There is enough critical cacophony about these day.
    Save the settling out the parsing of over-statements (or not) for a later time and place.

    • Stephen, I completely agree, these days the critics and journalists, and their various publications seem to outnumber the art being produced, and sadly, few of them have ever taken the time to sit down and really LISTEN…….. perhaps the obituaries of composers now should quit with the self-important twaddle. . . .and just play us their music……. what better obituary could there be for a composer than to have everyone listening to their music. . . . . :)

  9. Something I learned yesterday was that Brubeck refused to play to segregated audiences, which deserves a mention.

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