“That’s the beauty of music,” he told the AP in 1992. “You can take a theme from a Bach sacred chorale and improvise. It doesn’t make any difference where the theme comes from; the treatment of it can be jazz.”
In 2006, the University of Notre Dame gave Brubeck its Laetare Medal, awarded each year to a Roman Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity.”
At the age of 88, in 2009, Brubeck was still touring, in spite of a viral infection that threatened his heart and made him miss an April show at his alma mater, the University of the Pacific.
By June, though, he was playing in Chicago, where the Tribune critic wrote that “Brubeck was coaxing from the piano a high lyricism more typically encountered in the music of Chopin.”
In 1996, he won a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys and in 2009 he was a Kennedy Center Honors recipient.
Brubeck told the AP the Kennedy Center award would have delighted his late mother, Elizabeth Ivey Brubeck, a classical pianist who was initially disappointed by her youngest son’s interest in jazz. (He added that she had lived long enough to come to appreciate his music.)
Numerous jazz musicians were scheduled to participate in a birthday concert in Brubeck’s honor that had been scheduled for Thursday in Waterbury. The show will go on as a tribute concert. Darius, an acclaimed pianist, was among those scheduled to perform along with saxophonist Richie Cannata, and Bernie Williams, former New York Yankees star and a jazz guitarist.
“What he brought was a new meter to jazz,” said Cannata. “I was probably in high school or elementary school when I first heard that 5/4 feel. I said, ‘Wow, what is that?’ I was totally influenced. It made me stand up and pay attention to another whole feel of music.”