When jazz musician Dave Brubeck brought his world-renowned
quartet to Emory last fall, for Stephen Crist it was more than a
chance to see a legendary performer up close—it was an opportunity
to advance a new and innovative line of research in musicology.
Crist, associate professor of music history and recently named chair
of the department, is primarily a Bach scholar. But since the mid-1990s
Crist has been exploring connections between Bach and the peripatetic
Brubeck, whose 60-year career has crossed boundaries both musical
and political, as the Dave Brubeck Quartet has continued to delight
audiences around the world even as its founder moved into his 80s.
The kernel was planted when Crist, as a child pianist, read and
played jazz sheet music and listened to his father’s Brubeck
records. Then, in 1996, Crist heard a broadcast of a Catholic mass
composed by Brubeck, which alternated between jazz and classical
styles. That led Crist to search for more connections, and he found
that Brubeck had written a piano sonata called “Chromatic
Fantasy”—a reference to Bach’s “Chromatic
Fantasy and Fugue”—and a heretofore undiscovered research
question was born.
“I didn’t even know there was that side to Dave Brubeck—I
thought he was exclusively a jazz musician,” said Crist, who
decided to contact Brubeck directly in 1998 when attending a meeting
of the American Bach Society (ABS) at Yale University.
Brubeck, who lives in Wilton, Conn., invited Crist to make the drive
from New Haven, and the two spent half a day together.
“Dave said he had never had any interest from Bach scholars
before,” Crist said. “He started sending me stuff. I’d
get a CD in the mail from his manager with a note: ‘Dave thinks
you would really enjoy listening to this; on track 3 there’s
a Bachian improv.’”
When the president of the ABS asked him to collect and edit essays
for the just-published volume Bach in America (University of Illinois
Press, 2003), Crist jumped at the chance to write an article on
his newfound pursuit. Titled “The Role and Meaning of the
Bach Chorale in the Music of Dave Brubeck,” Crist’s
piece explores both musical and certain personal similarities between
the two composers, and even features a handwritten piece of sheet
music from 1958 of the Brubeck Quartet performing a Bach chorale.
When Brubeck agreed to visit Emory for a four-day festival and symposium
in his honor in October 2002—during which he received the
President’s Medal from former President Bill Chace—Crist
knew he had a special scholarly opportunity. He invited jazz scholars
from Spelman College, Harvard, Yale and Rutgers universities, and
the University of North Carolina at Greensboro to attend.
“Not only among Bach scholars, but there’s really not
been a whole lot done on Dave Brubeck’s role in jazz history,”
said Crist, who organized two roundtable discussions of which he
plans to publish edited transcriptions. “You just put several
world-class jazz scholars around a table and see what happens.”
Of course, not only was Brubeck’s visit fruitful for the musicology
research of Crist and the attending scholars—at least two
other researchers have written articles or book chapters based on
that experience with Brubeck—but a handful of Emory students
were treated to a jazz improv master class led by a living legend.
Brubeck also participated in a “performer up close”
session and spent a significant portion of the four days interacting
As for Crist, he said he plans to write a book on Brubeck within
the next few years. The two continue to correspond, and Brubeck
included a flattering writeup of his visit to Emory in his newsletter,
which is published and circulated among his fan club.
“I don’t consider myself a jazz scholar, but I’m
planning to write a book on Dave Brubeck, so I guess that makes
me a jazz scholar,” Crist said. “Would it have happened
without that [festival] weekend? Maybe, but it’s much less