Jazz legend Dave Brubeck died yesterday, 5 December 2012, one day short of his 92nd birthday. A noted composer, pianist, and band leader, he is probably best remembered for his recording of the 1959 classic “Take Five” (composed by fellow band member and saxophonist Paul Desmond), the first jazz recording to sell over a million copies. Brubeck’s fascination with exploring non traditional time signatures (at least for jazz at the time), is seen in other works from the time as well, such as his “Blue Rondo à la Turk (in 9/8 time). In addition to his work in jazz, he also composed orchestral works, ballets, oratorios, and cantatas.
In the 1970s, he collaborated with his wife, Iola, on the cantata La Fiesta de la Posada, reflecting the Mexican Christmas tradition commemorating the journey of Mary and Joseph and their search for lodging in Bethlehem.
Brubeck says about the musical tradition that inspired Fiesta de la Posada: This music “reflects those qualities I most admire in people…dignity in moments of tragedy, infectious high spirits in moments of joy, and an unshakable religious faith made evident in a strong sense of one’s own worth and a deep respect for the shared values of one’s group — family, church, village. These qualities, I think, are universal to people with a strong communal sense — an increasingly rare attribute in urban culture. It is this sense of sharing in an event which I have tried to capture in the simple retelling of the Christmas story.”
I had the wonderful opportunity to experience this cantata performed by Dave Brubeck and his trio in San Antonio in 1984.
From this cantata comes one of my most favorite “christmas songs” — God’s Love Made Visible!. Dave Brubeck incorporate the same 5/4 time signature used in “Take Five”, but here blends it with a joyful Mexican musical style (complete with claves, maracas with interjections from a celebratory pair of trumpets). Iola’s text beautifully sums up the the most central theme of Christmas:
God’s love made visible! Incomprehensible!
Christ is invincible! His love shall reign!
From love so bountiful, blessings uncountable
make death surmountable! His love shall reign!
Joyfully pray for peace and good will!
All of our yearning he will fulfill.
Live in a loving way! Praise him for everyday!
Open your hearts and pray. His love shall reign!
God gave the Son to us to dwell as one of us -
a blessing unto us! His love shall reign!
To him all honor bring, heaven and earth will sing,
praising our Lord and King! His love shall reign!
Open all doors this day of his brith,
all of good will inherit the earth.
His star will always be guiding humanity
throughout eternity! His love shall reign!