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Dave Brubeck didn’t just pass away less than a day shy of his 92nd birthday. He died hours before picking up what will likely be his final Grammy nomination, in the best instrumental category, for Ansel Adams: America, a symphonic piece he co-wrote with his son, Chris.
The jazzmen’s composition is four years old; it premiered in 2009 as a performance by the Stockton (California) Symphony, and the 22-minute orchestral piece has been performed by several symphonies since. But it didn’t debut as a commercial release until May 1 of this year, when a recording by the Temple University Symphony Orchestra bowed as an EP on iTunes, Amazon, and other digital outlets.
Chris Brubeck brought the concept to his father, who wrote it as a piano score, before the son reworked it into a full orchestral piece. The elder Brubeck was 88 when he got to work on a piece of music designed to be married to a collage of the legendary photographer’s images, which had never been licensed for that purpose before.
“We got a book of 400 photographs of Ansel Adams,” Brubeck told NPR in 2009 shortly before the world premiere. “We’d look at the photos and try to think about the music that would go with the photograph — Half Dome in Yosemite, Merced River, Great Falls coming down, Quiet Meadows. I didn’t stop writing for one month, mostly at night; I’d still be writing, very little sleep… [Adams] loved Bach and Chopin, so I’ve incorporated Chopin-esque kind of piano playing and Bach kind of piano playing into the piece. And it’s a tug of war between the camera and the piano that I’m trying to depict.”
This might set a record for the longest time frame between someone receiving a lifetime achievement award from the Grammys and later being nominated for an award for new work. At the 2013 ceremony, it will have been 17 years since Brubeck picked up his lifetime achievement award. He never won a Grammy in a regular category, though he was nominated four times — the last being all the way back in 1965.
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek