Music

Brubeck Is Bru-Back In Houston Chamber Choir Season Finale

Houston Chamber Choir, in partnership with many great artists, will present a tribute to the music of Dave Brubeck.
Houston Chamber Choir, in partnership with many great artists, will present a tribute to the music of Dave Brubeck. Photo by Jeff Grass Photography
The music of legendary musician and composer Dave Brubeck will fill the halls of Rice University’s Stude Concert Hall this weekend with special guests — his children — during Brubeck! A Celebration. Houston Chamber Choir will present the concert in partnership with Lago Vista Community Concerts Foundation, the Brubeck Brothers Quartet, the Paul English Quartet and many other fine musicians.

Even more exciting, the set list will be recorded as part of the inaugural performance of “The Voice of Brubeck,” a multi-year collaboration that will result in fresh performances of Brubeck's serious symphonic, chamber and sacred vocal works that have not been originally recorded by the artist.

“The Voice of Brubeck,” to be produced and released on PARMA Recordings’ Grammy Award-winning Navona Records label, will feature an underrepresented cross section of the late musical legend’s oeuvre — a diverse offering of celebrated and previously-unrecorded choral and orchestral works that Brubeck regarded as some of his finest. The ensuing commercial album by PARMA Recordings and Navona Records is expected to be released in late 2024.

Spearheaded by producer and Rice University Professor of Composition and Theory Arthur Gottschalk, the program features the Houston Chamber Choir alongside a 19-piece orchestra with Chris and Dan Brubeck, the Paul English Quartets and noted Houston musicians Paul English and Horace Alexander Young.

“After hearing Paul English [perform Dave Brubeck’s music] for many years, the thought occurred to me that we need to record this music of Dave’s that either hasn't been recorded or has been under-recorded oftentimes with amateur groups on tiny labels,” said Gottschalk. “I went about putting the project together by first approaching Paul English and then approaching Bob Simpson with the Houston Chamber Choir. Once they were amenable to the idea, I called Chris Brubeck. He and his family jumped on the idea.”

Making that phone call was not a hard stretch for Gottschalk. He and Chris first met in college more than 50 years ago.

“In 1970, when I attended the University of Michigan, that's also the year that Chris enrolled at the same school,” Gottschalk detailed. “We were both trombone players, and we were both playing in the university jazz program.”

Of course, Gottschalk knew that Houston Chamber Choir would be the best performing arts group to work with on this particular project based on both the group's acumen and history.

“In 2006, Robert Simpson brought Dave Brubeck to Houston [as a perfomer]. He was the first person to bring Dave back to Houston after almost 20 years [since his last visit],” Gottschalk said. “When I attended the concert, I also went to hang out with Dave and his wife Iola, whom I'd known in college since they were the parents of my friend Chris.”
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The concert is part of a multi-year collaboration that will result in fresh performances of Brubeck's serious symphonic, chamber and sacred vocal works that have not been originally recorded by the artist.
Photo by Jeff Grass Photography
That experience might have been where the seeds for the current project started, and it was one Simpson was excited to share with the Houston Chamber Choir audience.

“We are honored to have been asked to participate in this concert which will also result in a recording. We all know Dave Brubeck’s great instrumental works like ‘Take Five’ and ‘Blue Rondo à la Turk,’ but lyrics [have been added] to these pieces, and that adds to the excitement and complexity,” Simpson said. “Dave's career spans both classical and secular music, and so we're going to be representing his sacred music with a beautiful piece called 'Forty Days' which is the story of Jesus in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, and then we're going to be exploring 'The Desert and the Parched Land,' which is another piece that people may not know that has a religious element to it.”

Simpson also offers that the instrumental music will also have a presence on the set list as well as pieces that show off Brubeck’s gift for melody and counterpoint. Brubeck’s “Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been,’ which is a phrase that was picked up during the Red Scare of the 50s in the McCarthy era, will also be performed.

“It's going to be extraordinarily rich concert and fantastic way to end the season using all of the musical skills and abilities to bring jazz alive that the Houston Chamber Choir has developed over the years,” Simpson said.

Lago Vista Community Concerts Foundation and Houston Chamber Choir will present Brubeck! A Celebration at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, June 1 at Stude Concert Hall. The concert hall is located in Alice Pratt Brown Hall on Stadium Road on the Rice University campus, 6100 Main. Campus Entrance No. 8 on University Boulevard is closest to the venue. For tickets or information, visit houstonchamberchoir.org/Brubeck. $10 - $45.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd