Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Masters of Music

The Jazz Master, Dave Brubeck, passed away last week at the age of 92 (well, one day before his 92nd birthday). Brubeck, the son of a rancher father and a mother with a strong background in classical piano, brought his unusual background to everything that he did.His mother did not allow him to listen to the radio, because she thought the best way to enjoy music was to play it. His father sent him to veterinary college, but his teachers threw him out and sent him to their school of music, where his heart clearly lay. The music school appreciated his prodigious talent, and gave him a degree, after making him swear that he would never teach music, as being cross-eyed, he couldn't read music. College was followed by a stint in the army, where he ended up accompanying Red Cross travelling shows, and admiring commanding officers made sure he was kept away from the front. After the war Brubeck went back to college to complete his education in music, and then went out to form a series of highly successful jazz octets, trios and quartets. Despite a near fatal swimming accident, which left him with a minor nerve disorder for many years, Brubeck attained great popularity and critical acclaim, although there were  carpers who called him `bombastic' and plain 'stolid'.

Brubeck's uniqueness lay in  his fascination and experimentation with time signatures, which is said to have been picked from his exposure to different kinds of music during his trip to the Middle East, and India, in 1958. One of the most famous of his pieces, Take 5, is featured in this video.This piece became very well known all over the world, and inspired versions of the original everywhere. The most recent version, and the one he thought the most innovative, was played using instruments like the sitar and the tabla, by Pakistani musicians who had lost their livelihood thanks to General Zia Ul Haq's suppression of  the Pakistani film and music industries, and is featured here.

Brubeck's wife Iola collaborated with him as a lyricist and librettist in a number of his musical ventures, and four of his sons grew up to become musicians. He was an unwavering proponent of racial integration and was a little embarassed that he was the second Jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, (Louis Armstrong was the first), and felt that Duke Ellington had been more deserving of the honour, and had lost it due to racial considerations. Brubeck remained an active musician till the end of his life. His most recent concert was in November 2010, soon after his heart surgery. A major bash had been planned for his 92nd birthday, and got converted to a memorial event on his death.

Barely had this post been up for a few hours, when the terrible news came that another master of music had left us. The sitar maestro Ravi Shankar passed away today, also at the age of 92. The facts of his life are sufficiently well known to Indians to not need any reminders from bloggers, so we will just remember him the way we saw him last, at the Music Academy in Chennai with his eldest son Shubho Shankar. It was one of the rare occasions when the two played together.  They played their first raga, then a short piece, and then Ravi Shankar took the mike, and said, with his mischievous smile, `I know you Chennaiites like to go home early, so I will play just one more raga'. And they played just one more raga, for the next four hours, and was it beautiful! The crackers were bursting for the New Year when they finished, and we went out in the early morning.  It was an occasion to remember.

The musicians are  gone, the music plays on. R.I.P.

Dave  Brubeck once explained  what jazz meant to him. “One of the reasons I believe in jazz,” he said, “is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear.” (Source: N.Y. Times, 5/12/2012).

This blog post is by Neelima Gupte and Sumathi Rao.

We thank Gautam Menon for sending us the link of the Sachal studios version of Take 5.


AmOK said...

Thanks for sharing.

AmOK said...

Will you be writing about this soon? Is this as big as the blackboarders make out?

Neelima said...

I don't know much about it. Maybe after I read some more.