Dec 5, 2012
It is with great personal sadness that I report that Dave Brubeck, one of the musicians whose music turned me on to jazz, has passed away one day short of his 92nd birthday. He was a great favorite of my late father, from whom I learned to appreciate the genre.
Brubeck helped forever change how jazz was perceived and heard during his career as a pianist. A student of composer Darius Milhaud, Brubeck and Bill Evans introduced European Art Music tendencies to jazz piano. He wrote long pieces of music including chorales, ballets and masses that pushed the limits of jazz composition. He toyed with time signatures, recording a series of albums that featured songs that went against the meter of be-bop or swing. With his friend and collaborator Paul Desmond, his quartet recorded "Take Five", a song that became a true standard, a juke box hit, and one of the handful of jazz songs that are instantly recognizable by the casual fan. His series of albums "Jazz Impressions of..." helped introduce world music overtones to American jazz. He pioneered the idea of touring colleges to spread his fan base, and recorded several of those shows in memorable albums. As a composer, Brubeck wrote the classic "In Your Own Sweet Way". In 1954, he became only the second jazz musicians to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
I hired Brubeck to play at the Hartford Jazz Festival in 1998, and he was already frail, and tired easily.Remarkably, one he sat at the piano and the downbeat hit, he played like a youngster.
Born in Concord, Calif., on Dec. 6, 1920, Brubeck actually had planned to become a rancher like his father. He attended the College of the Pacific (now the University of the Pacific) in 1938, intending to major in veterinary medicine and return to the family's 45,000-acre spread.
But within a year Brubeck was drawn to music. He graduated in 1942 and was drafted by the Army, where he served - mostly as a musician - under Gen. George S. Patton in Europe. At the time, his Wolfpack Band was the only racially integrated unit in the military.
In an interview for Ken Burns' PBS miniseries "Jazz," Brubeck talked about playing for troops with his integrated band, only to return to the U.S. to see his black bandmates refused service in a restaurant in Texas. His groups were often interracial, and he repeatedly cancelled shows in Jim Crow towns.
His bands helped originate the "West Coast Cool" sound of the Fifties, particularly the classic quartet of Brubeck, Desmond, bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello. From 1958 to 1966, the group released more than 35 albums, many of them classics.
Brubeck and his wife, Iola, had five sons and a daughter. Four of his sons - Chris on trombone and electric bass, Dan on drums, Darius on keyboards and Matthew on cello - played with the London Symphony Orchestra in a birthday tribute to Brubeck in December 2000. That year he and Iola founded the Brubeck Institute at their alma mater. What began as a special archive, consisting of the personal document collection of the Brubecks, has since expanded to provide fellowships and educational opportunities in jazz for students, also leading to having one of the main streets the school resides on named in his honor, Dave Brubeck Way.