Yes, I know that in Oklahoma!, the lyrics are actually, “Oh the farmer and the cowman should be friends!”
But in the case of Dave Brubeck, who would have been 92 today had he not died yesterday, the cowboy/rancher became a pianist, and the world was better for it. Although he’d studied piano from the age of four, growing up in a musical family, in college he planned to study veterinary medicine and return to the 45,000 acre ranch that his father purchased when he was twelve. Legend has it that someone at his college noticed that his talents and passion congregated more around the keyboard than around the biology lab, and it was suggested that he pursue his true love, which he did with a vengeance.
My mother introduced me to his music when I was a little girl. She played his compositions on the piano often. I still request them when I am at my parents’ house. And throughout my life, I went and heard Brubeck live every chance I could — because doing so was pure joy and because I knew that the chances to do so would be limited, given that he was 40 years older than I am. It was one of those experiences in life when I felt most alive. I was in the presence of total genius… but not just genius. Dave Brubeck was better than genius; he was a joyful genius. This was a happy man, a fulfilled man, a man doing what he should be doing. Although I never met him, I feel confident about that.
It oozed out of his music, the compositions and studio recordings captured forever on vinyl or CD as well as the live performances, where he seemed to be having the time of his life on stage. I will never forget the night, several years ago before he stopped performing, when I heard Brubeck and his quartet at the Blue Note in New York. We sat right by the stage, and the drummer and I grinned at each other all night, knowingly connecting over a “this is as good as life gets” feeling. My favorite Brubeck song has always been One Moment Worth Years, and that night was full of moments worth years, decades, a lifetime.
I’ve always thought that Dave Brubeck was a good example of somebody who had something IN HIM that had to come out. In this case it was music. I’m sure he would have been a serviceable veterinarian and that cattle under his care would have thrived. But instead, he brought to my life and to mankind in general a gazillion moments of joy and some sort of levitation above the plane of reality and quotidian concerns. For anyone who ever heard him play, in an elevator or — for the lucky few — in person, life was better whether for a moment or permanently.
For some reason, when I was quite young I started preparing myself for the day when the world would no longer contain this enormous talent and big heart. I dreaded the day he would die, as if the lights of planet Earth would simply dim. Yesterday was that day, and although the sun rose again today, I wasn’t prepared for the shock I have that a force of nature (such a force as we take for granted) is no longer visibly here.
May Dave Brubeck live on in the spirits of people who choose the less conventional paths and follow their internal compasses where they lead. May his legacy continue in parents the world over who fan the flames that are in their kids, that are their kids, so that those kids can pursue not only what makes sense but what makes magic.