City Lights: Brubeck played here right after 9/11

December 12, 2012|By Michael Miller
  • David Brubeck performed at the then-named Orange County Performing Arts Center in 2001.
David Brubeck performed at the then-named Orange County… (FILE PHOTO )

One day in my high school philosophy class, the teacher gave us a list of different methods of expression and asked us to determine which ones constituted language. Among those that ended up in the "no" stack was music, since, we decided, it worked on a subjective level and couldn't relay concrete messages.

No doubt we were right. But even if music doesn't count as language per se, there are moments when it comes close — for example, the night when late jazz great Dave Brubeck visited the Orange County Performing Arts Center two days after 9/11.

That night, Brubeck brought an audience to tears playing a song on the piano. The song, "Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen," does have words — it's an old spiritual built around the refrain "Nobody knows the trouble I've seen / Nobody knows but Jesus / Nobody knows the trouble I've seen / Glory hallelujah" — but Brubeck, who died last week at age 91, didn't sing them that night.


Instead, he played the tune unaccompanied, and according to the Daily Pilot's account at the time, it elicited audible tears from the near-capacity crowd. Did they weep because they remembered the words, or did the melody itself have that swaying power in the days after the terror attacks?

Maybe both.

"I think, in the selection of that particular number, that he really did express for the audience some of their anguish," said Aaron Egigian, senior director of music programming for the center, which is now the Segerstrom Center for the Arts. "But each line, each verse of the song ends in 'glory hallelujah.' In a way, it acknowledges that 'I'm hurting, and we're all hurting,' but that we affirm life.

"We say, 'We will go on no matter what.' So that was the sort of nonverbal subtext, and I think that was why it hit people between the eyes and in the hearts."

I hadn't heard the story of Brubeck's post-9/11 appearance until Egigian described it in a posting on the center's blog shortly after the pianist's death. Afterward, though, I checked the Daily Pilot's archives and found that he hadn't been the only one stirred by the performance. Reporter Jennifer K. Mahal, reviewing the show, waxed almost poetic describing the scene.

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