December 14, 2012

Be Our Guest / John F. Fink

A remembrance of jazz great Dave Brubeck

John F. FinkJazz musician great Dave Brubeck died on Dec. 5 at age 91, one day before his 92nd birthday.

Sometime late in the 1970s, while I was president of Our Sunday Visitor (OSV) in Huntington, Ind., Ed Murray came to me with an interesting proposal. Ed was assistant director of OSV’s Religious Education Department. His proposal was that OSV publish the music for a Mass, and that we try to get the great jazz pianist Dave Brubeck to write the music.

“You mean you want OSV to publish a jazz Mass?” was my first reaction.

Ed assured me that Brubeck was a “serious” musician as well as a great jazz pianist, and that it would not be a “jazz Mass.”

I thought about it for a while, but I finally gave Ed the go ahead to contact Brubeck. He did and succeeded in convincing Brubeck, who was not Catholic, to compose a Mass.

Brubeck’s Mass was called “To Hope: A Mass for a New Decade,” and OSV published the music in September 1980.

Before the music was published, though, the Mass was performed at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Philadelphia during a convention of the National Association of Pastoral Musicians early in 1979. For this first presentation, Brubeck decided not to perform, but to watch and listen—and perhaps make some changes if he thought they were warranted.

Before the concert, Cardinal John Krol of Philadelphia had a large reception and dinner for Dave and Iola Brubeck, my wife, Marie, and me, and Ed Murray and his wife. We stayed at a hotel several blocks from the cathedral and walked to the rectory, which is connected to the cathedral, for the reception. On the way, Brubeck asked me, “How do I greet a cardinal? Do I kiss his ring?”

“It used to be the custom to kiss a bishop’s or cardinal’s ring,” I replied, “but it’s not done very often any more. As a non-Catholic, you certainly would not be expected to do it.”

Sure enough, when he met Cardinal Krol, Brubeck kissed his ring.

Later during the reception, I happened to be standing near the cardinal when I heard him say to one of the priests, “Did you see that? Dave Brubeck kissed my ring!”

During the dinner, Cardinal Krol and Brubeck got along tremendously well. They had an animated conversation throughout the dinner. It was the first I knew that Cardinal Krol was such a fan of Dave Brubeck.

After the dinner, we walked into the cathedral for the concert. The cathedral was packed, with some people standing in the back. A pew was reserved about 10 rows from the front for Cardinal Krol, Dave and Iola Brubeck, the Murrays, and Marie and me. The concert was a complete success, and Cardinal Krol offered profuse compliments during another party in the rectory afterward.

The next place we presented “To Hope” was in Cincinnati. This time, the Mass was performed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Eric Kunzel, with the Dave Brubeck Quartet. I invited Archbishop Joseph Bernardin, then archbishop of Cincinnati, to be my guest for the concert, and he accepted.

It was a wonderful opportunity to get to know Archbishop Bernardin better, although we already knew each other well because we were both on the board of trustees of the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate (CARA). He, too, was very complimentary about the music for the Mass.

After the concert, Archbishop Bernardin drove Marie and me to a party given for the Brubecks and the orchestra. It was the first time that I had had an archbishop, and future prince of the Church, as a chauffeur. Later, Cardinal John P. Foley drove me around Rome.

With two successful concerts under our belts, the Dave Brubeck Quartet began to perform “To Hope” in various places around the country. I decided that one of those places should be Huntington. The night before the concert, we had Dave and Iola Brubeck to our home for dinner. Then, the night of the concert, we had a dinner at Our Sunday Visitor for various civic leaders of the community.

I sat with Iola during the concert and was surprised at how nervous she was. She admitted that, throughout all the years Dave performed before audiences, she still got very nervous before every concert. Once again, we had a very successful concert.

Our Sunday Visitor published the music for “To Hope,” and it was used for some Masses here and there, but it was never a big success in liturgical circles.

One other thing came out of it. As a result of his study before writing the music for the Mass, and in the process of writing it, Dave Brubeck became a Catholic.

(John F. Fink is editor emeritus of The Criterion.)

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