When we got to an area behind the front, there were some Red Cross girls who wanted to sing for the troops and asked if anyone in the G.I. audience could play the piano. An upright piano was on the back of an Army truck that had been reconstructed to serve as a stage. I raised my hand. I'd started playing piano when I was 4, and I had been in an Army band back home in California but had not touched a piano for many weeks.
The next morning, we were called to line up as replacements for a company of soldiers that had largely been wiped out the day before. Someone hollered out three names, including mine, to stay behind. The colonel in charge, who had heard me play, wanted me to form a band that would play for the men returning from the front. Called the Wolf Pack Band, we would play mostly swing tunes. We probably entertained more frontline troops than any other military band.
Then one day we were told to simply go out in the truck, find any group of our men and play. We headed out only to find ourselves mistakenly in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge, and unknowingly we had slipped behind enemy lines.
We managed to turn around and found our way back to an American checkpoint where a G.I. came up to my side of the truck. He had a grenade in each hand with the pins pulled. I explained to him that we were G.I.s in a band. He said, "All my buddies were just killed here by Germans in an American truck just like this, and all of them could speak perfect English just like you're speaking." He asked if we had papers, which I showed him, and then he asked, "What's the password?" The guys in the truck were all praying I knew it, and I did. I could see machine guns on both sides of the road pointed at us. Later, guys in back said there were sticks of dynamite in the trees right above the truck. If I had said the wrong thing, you know what would have happened.
That day changed me forever. I knew that if I could live through the war, I would write music about peace and the brotherhood of man. Before the war, I had studied music at the College of the Pacific, but now I wanted to learn how to be a composer, with the idea of writing oratorios and cantatas.
Before joining up, I had taken a lesson with the French composer Darius Milhaud. When I got home, I continued to study with him on the G.I. Bill at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. He knew I wanted to write oratorios and cantatas, but he also said I should not give up jazz. He said, "Jazz is the most American art form. It's too late for you to have a European classical background. But you'll do it on your own."
He was right. After years of writing and performing jazz, I wrote my first oratorio, The Light in the Wilderness, when I was in my 40s. I'm better known for my jazz improvisations, but I have written many other religious works and continue to perform them around the world.
The war made me deeply aware that life is a sacred gift, but I had to learn how to be a composer--how to translate my thoughts and emotions into notes and music.
Dave Brubeck -- As told to Barbara Isenberg.
Courtoisie Time Magazine du 16 février 2004.
Il est des gens qui laissent un vide sur la planète, d'autres rien.