I just learned that Dave Brubeck passed. My heart is breaking in 5/4. When I was a little kid growing up in Chautauqua, I used to go to my great-grandparents after school nearly every day. Great grand-dad, Clarence Nash was an impressive old guy. He was a math professor at University of Buffalo well into his 90s. He helped found the Cub Scouts during the Depression. He loved God, his wife, Chautauqua Institution, sports and music. I seem to remember him disliking just about everything else.
His wife, great grand-mum Florence, had entered into a world of senility before I came along, but she was still wonderfully sweet right up to her last breath, and I sort of liked how she’d greet me with a cookie, forget she had already given me a cookie, and kept giving me cookies until they were all out of cookies. Clarence would yell at her and sometimes me at the waste of baked goods, but would usually sneak me a smile through his crankiness.
I didn’t visit them for the cookies though. It was great-grand-dad. He was as conservative as they come, but was willing to talk history and politics with a grade-schooler on an adult level. He never made me feel like a little kid. He always seemed excited when I’d come around. He’d play me symphonies on an old record player and explain them and their composer to me. He’d explain the world, or at least his viewpoint of it from before the Depression into the 1980s. He got me interested in watching the news. During the summer of 1987, when I was a nerdy 12-year-old obsessed with the Iran Contra Hearings, Clarence was the only adult who would talk about them with me. I started playing guitar that summer. He wished I’d learn piano instead. We were pretty great friends right up until he passed at 100.
Clarence only had one record that wasn’t classical music in his collection. It was Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out.” I will always remember the colors of that album cover. It stuck out to me, so I asked him about it. Clarence was an intellectual, but he wasn’t a deep guy. Though a historian of sorts, he wasn’t overly sentimental. It stuck out when her referred to the Brubeck album as “math.”
We listened together. Great-grand-dad used time signatures to explain mathematics to me and mathematics to explain music to me. This very conservative, short-tempered genius of a man, whom I’d never seen show any fondness for the schmaltzy nor saccharine looked me dead in the eye and told this then child quite solemnly, “Math is the true language of the universe. Music is that language being spoken.”
That phrase has always stuck with me. It echoed within me each of the four times I saw Dave Brubeck perform. One random afternoon as a six or seven year old turned me into a life-long fan of jazz, and that was built around one very important Dave Brubeck album. Thanks to the music of Brubeck, I will forever be able to time travel to my childhood and have a moment with my great-grand-dad. That is the power of the fantastic language of music that Mr. Brubeck articulated so very interestingly and well. It is timeless. Waltzing through complex time signatures and returning to a 4/4 groove just enough to keep the listener hooked, Dave Brubeck will always be timeless.
Thank you, Mr. Brubeck. Thank you for your many timeless pieces playing with time. For eternity, may you rest in peace.