Saturday Songs and Stories

So the summer between the sixth and seventh grade–that would have been 1996, or twenty-four years ago–I was the piano player at middle school jazz camp. Not for the eighth grade band (and that just devoured my little jealous liver!) but for the sixth/seventh grade band, which made sense, as I was in both and neither, the summer between.

At said camp was a kid from the other middle school, and his name was Louie. He now goes by Louis just like I now go by Arthur, not Artie. (He’s allowed to call me Artie, still. You? No.) Lou was a prodigy then just as he’s magnificently brilliant now. And he asked me if I would play Take Five with him, since he played the alto sax. Yeah, of course, I said. We got Clif and Nick to play drums and bass, and there you go. It sounded, to our barely adolescent ears, just like this:

Maybe a bit more like the recording, who knows. I loved that song, as Louis introduced me to it. I still love that song. It’s also really easy to jam with, on the piano, once one learns the bridge. (I still remember it, or at least, the ham-fisted bad comping I developed for it!)

Because there’s never just one song in these posts–Dave Brubeck converted to Catholicism, and began writing hymns and chorales. To Hope! A Celebration is just wonderful, because this horn-filled loud-voiced formal chorale breaks into jazz as Brubeck had cuts where he jammed with his combo. Because of course he did, and of course he should have. In the hymnal for the Disciples of Christ, the Chalice Hymnal, we have this neat little Christmas hymn, God’s Love Made Visible.

“His star will always be, guiding humanity, throughout eternity, his love shall reign.” Some day I’ll write about Riggs and the Jazz Mass we pulled off at Brite Divinity School.

The hymn above, you may notice, is in 5/4. Anglo congregations don’t do 5/4 well–and so it’s good on Christmas Eve, as everyone wants their favorite hymns and familiars, to bust out a little fast-paced syncopation on them. It’s good theology. (I’ve never heard the caroling and candy canes verses, in the version above them; they did not, in fact, make it into our hymnal!)

I can’t talk about Take Five and Dave Brubeck without mentioning one of my favorite covers of all time–Tito Puente’s version. He took the iconic, weird metered definition of cool jazz and dropped it into a hot Latin 4/4. I love it, and I love jazz because it does stuff like this. I leave you with it.

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