The Sacred Ran Through Jazz Legend Dave Brubeck’s Music

Dave Brubeck, 1972, by Heinrich Klaffs

Dave Brubeck, 1972, by Heinrich Klaffs

"I approached the composition as a prayer," jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck said of his "To Hope! A Celebration," a contemporary setting for the Roman Catholic Mass, "concentrating upon the phrases, trying to probe beneath the surface, hoping to translate into music the powerful words which have grown through the centuries."

Probing beneath the surface marked all of Brubeck’s music, from the revolutionary 1959 polyrhythmic album "Time Out," to his oratorio, "A Light in the Wilderness," and his setting of Thomas Aquinas’ hymn, "Pange Lingua."

Brubeck died on Wednesday of heart failure, a day before his 92nd birthday.

Brubeck is best known in the secular jazz world for his startling compositions using different time signatures, such as 5/4 time in the classic "Take Five," or the mixture of 9/8 time and the more traditional 4/4 rhythm of "Blue Rondo a la Turk." Both pieces are on the "Time Out" album, the first jazz album to sell 1 million copies and still one of the best-selling.

Religious faith, however, was never far from Brubeck’s creative mind.

Folk Artist Noah Gundersen Talks with Sojourners

Up-and coming-/singer-songwriter Noah Gundersen stopped by the Sojourners office to talk with our Brandon Hook about music, his new album Family, God, and creativity.

The Seattle-based folk artist was recently featured on Spotify’s Emerge app, which pits rising artists against each other based on play frequency, and is currently on a U.S. tour.

Special thanks to Noah for stopping by and being so open with us!

New & Noteworthy

I Told My Soul to Sing: Finding God with Emily Dickinson by Kristin LeMay / Grace and Mercy by Jonathan Butler / Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade by Sharon Leslie Morgan and Thomas Norman DeWolf / We Are Not Ghosts by Mark Dworkin and Melissa Young

Photo: Brandon Hook / Sojourners

Julie Polter is Senior Associate Editor at Sojourners.

The Naked Artist: Narcissism or Self-Giving Love?

Photo: Hands playing piano, © silver-john /

Photo: Hands playing piano, © silver-john /

How is it possible that the creative life can feel simultaneously self-giving and narcissistic? On the one hand, the artist, or musician, or writer has a gift that not everyone has. And because paintings and songs and books give other people great joy – and might even change their lives — those gifts must be shared. But that means the artist herself must be shared, and that’s the problem.

For the artist, self-expression is unavoidable – it is part of the job description. As a songwriter, my raw material is the world as I observe it. That’s all I’ve got. The most realistic painter or sculptor still has to rely on his own vision. Even as a journalist, I have to draw upon my five senses, my own mind and my own experiences. Even as I tell someone else’s story, it is in part my story. I can’t tell your story without filtering it through my story; it’s how we make sense of new information. I’m only human, after all.

CULTURE WATCH: Yeasayer — Musical Mad Scientists

There are some artists whose work leaves you walking away thinking, “How in the world did they do that?” The Yeasayer performance at the 9:30 Club in D.C. on Nov. 15 was one such performance. 

The psychedelic electro pop group hailing from Brooklyn pumped out a wholesome set of favorites from its older releases as well as songs from its recent — and divisive — album Fragrant World, all to the backdrop of what looked like a chunk of the Epcot ball from Disney World.

But the elaborate — and frequently trippy — back drop and light show seamlessly augmented the synth-laden songs, morphed electric guitar, and catchy hooks. It was truly and audiovisual experience. Had their performance included some neon gummy worms or something, it would have engaged nearly every sense.

CULTURE WATCH: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: A Different Kind of Hip Hop

It’s not unusual to hear someone rapping about clothes — and how expensive theirs are — on the radio these days. Consider Jay Z and Kanye West’s collaboration “Otis,” where Jay Z belts, “Photo-shoot fresh, looking like wealth / I'm 'bout to call the paparazzi on myself.”

And if you don’t hear about their diamond studded jewelry and designer clothes, some rappers aren’t shy about showing them off in music videos.

But Seattle-based hip hop group Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who recently hit number one on the iTunes album charts and stopped by D.C.’s 9:30 club on Nov. 13, chose a different approach to the whole clothing concept and, for the most part, hip hop in general.

ICYMI: Andrew Bird's 'Hands of Glory'

Courtesy of Andrew Bird's Facebook page.

'Hands of Glory' sees the indie star engage with stripped down blues and country tunes. Courtesy of Andrew Bird's Facebook page.

If you were overwhelmed by all that election business, you might have forgotten that October just happened, and with it came a new release from one of my personal favorite musicians, Andrew Bird.

Hands of Glory, Andrew Bird’s latest record and companion to March’s Break it Yourself, is the product of a pair of recording sessions prompted by an immense response to Bird’s “old-time” sets on recent tours.

Reinterpreting songs from Break It Yourself and featuring covers of classic country tunes, these “old-time” performances find Bird and his full band playing to a single microphone with an entirely acoustic setup.

Drawing inspiration from these sets, Hands of Glory features two brand new original tracks, a new interpretation of “Orpheo Looks Back” from Break It Yourself and covers of Van Zandt, the Handsome Family, Alpha Consumer and others.

The results are fantastic.

Steve Taylor on Leaving Music for Film, Returning to Music, the Election and Other Scary Things

Steve Taylor, film director and rock hero, visits our (mine and Jordan Green's) Homebrewed Christianity podcast to talk about the disappointing theater run of his film, Blue Like Jazz, what made him leave music for film, and to announce his return to music through a new album he’s been working on.

So, yeah, that’s a big deal. And yeah, we’re pretty much breaking the story.

In the Echo Chamber, we talk about the election, Superstorm Sandy, scary movie commercials, and, you know, a bunch of other stuff. Finally, we discuss some common Christian cliches.

Listen ... inside the blog.