On Musial’s death, Willie Mays said, “I knew Stan very well. He used to take care of me at All-Star games, all 24 of them. He was a true gentleman who understood the race thing and did all he could. Again, a true gentleman on and off the field — I never heard anybody say a bad word about him, ever.” Jazz critic Ted Gioia, speaking a few years before Brubeck’s death, might have been speaking of Musial’s musical doppelgänger: “One of the things that’s most striking about Dave is his basic decency as a human being. And this comes across in the music. His music does have this embracing warmth. Similarly, if you look at Dave’s career outside of life onstage, as a family man, what he did for civil rights, you get a sense of that same warmth.”
Might that warmth, though, have reflected a greater fire within? In the case of Musial and Brubeck, there can be little doubt. Stan Musial had the lifelong simple faith of the child of God he was baptized as in 1920. Caught by his manager entering the team hotel at 7:00 a.m. one Sunday during spring training, he was heatedly asked where he had been. “Morning Mass,” he replied. He reported that his greatest thrill in life was meeting an even more notable Pole, Pope John Paul II, in Rome (“I’m also a Cardinal,” he reminded some American priests who recognized him) and during the pontifical visit to St. Louis in 1987. His devotion to his wheelchair-bound wife Lil was legendary. As youngsters helped fold her wheelchair into the trunk of his car after Sunday Mass, out from the same trunk would pop signed souvenirs for them. His legacy of faith is surely his greatest gift to his children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.
Brubeck’s path to faith was, like the man and his music, more modernist. World War II provoked spiritual questioning. His mother had led a Presbyterian church choir for which he played, but he was of no particular faith. Commissioned by the editor of Our Sunday Visitor to compose a Mass, Brubeck dutifully delivered To Hope! A Mass of Celebration, only to be confronted by a priest asking why no “Our Father” had been included. After being informed that this was what he knew as the “Lord’s Prayer,” he refused the request to make additions to the completed work and packed off to the Caribbean for a long-postponed family vacation. “So the first night . . . I dreamt the ‘Our Father,’” he later said, recalling that he hopped out of bed to write down what he could recall from the dream. He resolved not only to add the piece but to become a Catholic. He insisted that he did not “convert”; he was nothing before, and he simply “became” a Catholic. (Not ignoring those Presbyterian roots, he played several times at architect Ralph Adams Cram’s masterwork, the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, where I first saw him play.) He wrote more sacred music, including the entrance theme for John Paul’s 1987 Mass at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The lyricism that some found missing in his earlier work fully blossomed in his later years, reflecting further a spiritual depth that was, in truth, never far from his playing.
I saw only Brubeck play, perhaps not in his prime, but it was more than good enough. There were some, many thousands I suspect, who grew up watching and admiring these singular men when both were in their primes. Thousands more, I hope, might in this age of cynicism find inspiration in the complementary lives of two men who enriched our national fabric more than either would have been comfortable to acknowledge.
— Edward R. Grant is an attorney residing in Arlington, Va., and vice chairman of Americans United for Life.