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A Week of Honors for Dave Brubeck


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Laetare Medal at Notre Dame, President's Medal at University of the Pacific, and a renamed Dave Brubeck Park in Concord CA

WILTON, CT, MAY 18: When Dave Brubeck celebrated his 85th birthday last December 6, he said his primary goal for the following year was “to make it to 86." But he's making a lot of stops along the way. The legendary pianist and composer's 86th year is even busier than usual, with numerous honors interspersed with his usual full schedule of performances.

On Saturday, May 20, Brubeck will be in Stockton, CA to receive the first President's Medal of Achievement presented by University of the Pacific President Donald V. De Rosa at Pacific's commencement ceremony. Brubeck is a Pacific alumnus, class of 1942. Actor and director Clint Eastwood, who serves as chairman of the Brubeck Institute at Pacific, will be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts at the same ceremony.

Then Brubeck and his wife Iola, likewise a Pacific alum, hop a plane for South Bend, IN, where on Sunday, May 21, he will receive the Laetare Medal - described as the most prestigious award given to an American Catholic -- from University of Notre Dame at its commencement ceremony. Instead of giving an acceptance speech, Brubeck will perform a solo piano piece to acknowledge receipt of the award.

Earlier in the week, the Brubecks were in Sacramento, CA, where he was honored by the California State Senate, via a resolution sponsored by Sen. Tom Torlakson, D-Antioch. Then the city of Concord, CA, his birthplace, held a reception to announce that its Concord Boulevard Park was being renamed Dave Brubeck Park.

The youngest of three musical sons born to Howard “Pete" Brubeck, a cattle rancher, and Elizabeth Ivey Brubeck, a classical pianist and teacher, Dave Brubeck was recognized as a piano prodigy by the time he was four years old. When the City of Concord launched its annual jazz festival in the late '60s, he returned often to perform. By that time he had become the first jazz artist with a No. 1 single (Paul Desmond's “Take Five") and the first to sell a million albums ("Time Out"), among numerous other career milestones.

While Brubeck achieved worldwide fame as a jazz artist, with more than 400 compositions for his Quartet, he is perhaps the only artist to enjoy an equal measure of success in the classical music world. He has composed five works for symphony orchestra, beginning 50 years ago with “Elementals" -- premiered by the San Diego Symphony in 1956 and more recently staged as the ballet “Elemental Brubeck" by the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company -- and more than 45 works for voice, ranging from solo pieces to full-scale Masses, cantatas, and oratorios, generally on themes of spirituality or social justice. “The composed energy of Mr. Brubeck's art helps us apprehend the fullness of creation," said Notre Dame's president, Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., in announcing the University's 2006 Laetare Medal. “His life and his music splendidly interweave the celebration of beauty with the imperative to worship."

Established at Notre Dame in 1883, the Laetare (Latin for “rejoice") Medal has been awarded annually to a Catholic “whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the Church, and enriched the heritage of humanity." Previous receipients include President John F. Kennedy, Catholic Worker foundress Dorothy Day, novelist Walker Percy, and death penalty abolitionist Sister Helen Prejean.

Brubeck converted to Catholicism in 1980, shortly after completing the Mass “To Hope" which had been commissioned by Ed Murray, editor of the national Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor. “To Hope" has since been performed in cathedrals throughout the U.S., at St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna and at the Moscow Conservatory.

The President's Medal at University of the Pacific is reserved for those who have demonstrated in their life and in their work high standards of excellence in scholarship or creative activity, professional development and achievement, public service, commitment to the development of University of the Pacific, or excellence in a field which contributes to the development of society.

“Dave Brubeck's work is a study in creative excellence. His life is marked by achievement, public service, and an incomparable contribution to the betterment of our world," said DeRosa. “Whether taking a stand against segregation in the 1950s or sitting alongside a young musician at the keyboard at the age of 85, Dave is a living example of what we educate all of our students to be- responsible leaders and citizens of the world."

Following his “awards week" and a brief breather, Brubeck returns to his usual routine of composing and performing. On June 21 in New York, the Dave Brubeck Quartet will make a rare appearance with big band at the JVC Jazz Festival at Carnegie Hall. On June 25, he's at the Saratoga Performing Arts Festival, and he'll also perform at the Toronto and Newport Jazz Festivals, where he holds the record for most appearances.

On September 17 Brubeck returns to another frequent haunt, the Monterey Jazz Festival, where he has performed often since the Festival's inception in 1958. There he'll premiere his latest work, “Cannery Row Suite," based on excerpts from the John Steinbeck novel with lyrics by his frequent collaborative partner, Iola Brubeck.

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