Dave Brubeck on the influence of Johann Sebastian Bach


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SS: Dave, you often identify Bach as your favorite composer. What influence has Bach had on your musical career in terms of both composition, and your improvisations?

DB: Well, I love the Brandenburg Concertos, and I think they're so rhythmic, and so full of life, and so related in a way to jazz. Or, jazz is related to it (laughter).

The fact that many people at his time knew how he could improvise, and he liked to improvise on Sunday in church, and the minister would usually not like it at all that he was improvising because the audience, the congregation would get so wrapped up in his improvisation that they wouldn't listen to his homily.

And so, he would ask Bach not to improvise so much, and would say, "The congregation doesn't like it when you change the harmonies," which probably he didn't like it -- the minister. But, the similarity between the figured bass that Bach used with the choir, and the chord progressions that a jazz musician uses are kind of a similarity that you improvise in these progressions.

And, that again relates it to jazz. And, he must have been a tremendous improviser. There are certain organists to this day that improvise so great, that in classical music, it's been the organists that have kept alive the old tradition of improvisation, while most symphonic music has let it die out. That, again, I credit to Bach's great legacy of improvisation. It carried over into Mozart and into Beethoven.

SS: Compositionally, do you see a lot of influence of Bach in I guess not only your jazz tunes, but especially your larger scale, orchestral, and choral works?

DB: Yeah. They're always -- he's lurking in the background in a nice way (laughter).

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