Dave Brubeck

  • Jazz pianist and composer, leader of the Dave Brubeck Quartet, born in 1920 from Concord California. Died in 2012 of heart failure.
  • He took piano lessons from his mother, though he could not read music due to his poor eyesight. He entered college intending to study veterinary science, but he switched to music when the department head told him to leave the program. He was almost expelled when it was discovered that he could not read music on sight, but he was spared when several professors supported him, saying that he had writing skills. The college let him graduate on the condition that he never teach piano.
  • In 1942, he was drafted into the army. He played piano at a Red Cross show and was so popular, he was ordered to form a band. He created The Wolfpack, one of the first racially segregated bands in the army. He met saxophonist Paul Desmond in 1944, who would later join his band. After the army, he returned to college to study more music – his teacher encouraged him to study fugue and orchestration, but not classical piano.
  • He started working with 7 other musicians, forming the Dave Brubeck Octet. The group recorded jazz standards, starting in 1946. The record label couldn’t afford to issue the recordings, so by 1949 they were turned over to another company. In 1950, the new record company released 10 songs on an album titled Old Sounds From San Francisco. That year, Brubeck started recording as a trio, and these early albums sold well.
  • In 1951, Brubeck was injured while diving in the surf in Hawaii, which caused residual nerve pain in his hands. This led to changes in his playing style, moving towards complex chords instead of speedy, difficult-to-play single notes.
  • He formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, with Desmond on sax, Bob Bates on double bass and Joe Dodge on drums. They became popular performing at colleges, and several records were released of their live performances. By 1954, he was on the cover of Time magazine.
  • The quartet had several personnel changes for bass and drums, and at least 12 albums were released by Brubeck and his ensemble, as well as 2 solo piano albums. By 1954, he was started to record his own compositions, as well as jazz standards. In 1957, he released Dave Digs Disney, jazz renditions of songs from various Disney animated films.
  • By 1958, the “classic” quartet was set, with Brubeck, Desmond, Eugene Wright on double bass, and Joe Morello on drums. This group recorded and performed together for 10 years, releasing 28 albums. His signature album, Time Out, was released in 1959. It is the first jazz album ever to sell over 1 million copies. His famous hit Take Five is on this album – it’s the only piece on the album not written by Brubeck (it was written by Desmond). Released as a single in 1959, and re-issued in 1961, it became the biggest selling jazz-single ever, peaking at #25 on the Billboard Hot 100. After his death in 1997, Desmond’s will stipulated that performance royalties for Take Five and other compositions of his be given to The American Red Cross – this has contributed around $100,000 per year to the charity since his death.
  • Brubeck continued to record and perform with various line-ups over the next 4 decades. There are over 100 albums with Brubeck as leader that were recorded between 1946 and 2007. Some of his later work included his son Chris on bass and bass trombone; his son Darius on piano; his son Matthew on cello; and his son Dan on drums.
  • Several of his songs have become jazz standards – notably The Duke, his tribute to Duke Ellington, and In Your Own Sweet Way, written for his wife and made famous when it was covered by Miles Davis in 1956.
  • Brubeck’s legacy includes many awards and recognition. He received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997; a Kennedy Center honoree in 2009; and he has an asteroid belt named after him. May 4 is informally known as “Dave Brubeck Day,” chosen because his most famous work, Take Five, has the unique time signature of 5/4.
  • Here is a video of the Dave Brubeck Quartet performing Take Five, from 1964.This song defines cool jazz! Watch the whole video to see the improvisations by Desmond, Brubeck, and Morello.

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