In Ken Burns's film Jazz, Dave Brubeck tells a story about growing up on a ranch in California. His father, a "rugged harmonica-playing cowboy and state champion steer roper," took him to meet a black friend of his. He asked his friend to open his shirt for Dave, which revealed a brand that had been seared onto the man's chest. His dad told Dave, "These things can’t happen. That’s what I fought for [in World War I]." What made the story even more memorable was that Brubeck was crying as he told it.
I'd always thought of Brubeck as a great, albeit under-appreciated, musician and composer. (His "crime" was confounding the racial and geographical expectations of the insular, dogmatic and ultimately self-destructive jazz world: he was a white musician from California at a time when jazz was supposed to be played by blacks living on the East Coast.) But at that moment I really sensed that he was more than that -- he was, most of all, a seriously good man.
On the occasion of Brubeck's being honored at the Kennedy Center, my friend Terry Mattingly has written a column about Brubeck and what makes him such a seriously good man and how faith is expressed in the least-known part of his oeuvre, his sacred music.
Everything Terry says is spot on. Still, I hope he forgives me if I end this with my favorite Brubeck piece, Strange Meadowlark.