At the very moment that last evening’s memorial service for Dave Brubeck got underway, the rumble of thunder penetrated the massive Gothic walls of New York City’s Cathedral of St. John The Divine. A murmur ran through the throng filling the 120-year-old church.
With dignity and a commanding presence, Iola Brubeck read Langston Hughes’ poem “I Dream a World.” She said that it echoes the core of her husband’s belief in the equality of all peoples. An excerpt:
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free…
Recalling one of the last times her husband played in the cathedral, Mrs. Brubeck said, “The 5/4 is still echoing somewhere in here.”
5/4, 9/8 and assorted other time signatures sounded through the cathedral as combinations of musicians remembering Brubeck played a dozen of his compositions. Catherine Brubeck, pictured here with her dad, told of the time in the 1950s that her father came off the road to their home in the Oakland hills above San Francisco Bay and initiated a jam session with his very young sons. She was two years old. Inspired by the family musicale, she slipped into her tiny tutu and danced around the room. That, in turn, inspired Brubeck to write “Cathy’s Waltz.” After she told the story, Catherine introduced her brothers Darius, piano; Chris,bass; Danny, drums (pictured); and Matthew, cello; who played her song. That initiated a succession of performances by musicians young and old, from the Brubeck Institute Alumni Quintet in their early twenties to bassist Eugene Wright (pictured), the surviving member of the classic Brubeck quartet of the 1950s and ‘60s. Two weeks short of his 90th birthday, Wright joined Darius to play “King For a Day,” his feature from Brubeck’s musical The Real Ambassadors.
A full rundown of the memorial program, including names of speakers, players and compositions, is posted here.
Among the highlights of the evening were husband and wife pianists Bill Charlap and Renee Rosnes in a four-handed duet on “The Duke” and Roberta Gambarini singing an impassioned “Travelin’ Blues” accompanied by pianist Andy Laverne, bassist Chris Smith and drummer Cory Cox, with clarinetist Paquito D’Rivera, and Roy Hargrove playing flugelhorn.
The Brubeck Brothers backed alto saxophonist Paul Winter and flutist Deepak Ram in “Koto Song.
Laverne, Dan Brubeck and Chris Brubeck were the rhythm section for Branford Marsalis in his stunning exploration of “For Iola.”
Chick Corea followed with “Strange Meadowlark.” He played it unaccompanied, investing the piece with harmonic and metric riches that all but illuminated the huge cathedral space.
Those were a few of the memorable moments in an occasion dedicated to a man who had an enduring impact on the music, culture and social conscience of his and our time.