Jazz legend Dave Brubeck has died at the age of 91, he died on Wednesday of heart failure whilst on the way to hospital for a regular medical exam.
Most people will be familiar with the track ‘Take Five’ which was released by the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1959 and was composed by alto-sax player Paul Desmond who helped give the Quartet part of their definitive sound. It was the first million selling single and sounds as good today as it did then thanks to the unusual 5/4 time signature adopted as well as the progressive interplay between Brubeck’s piano and Desmond’s sax.
The album that the track Take Five featured on ‘Time Out‘ contained mainly tracks which were not in common time but that didn’t stop it being a huge success. The Quartet wasn’t without its critics, the clean-cut look and lifestyle was at odds to the jazz hipsters and despite being criticised for an over-obsession with clever time signatures and classical music parallels Dave Brubeck was quoted as the most significant composer-leaders in modern jazz (The Penguin Guide to Jazz). “Brubeck was pushing jazz’s demographics into territory no one had anticipated”.
The original quartet of Brubeck, Desmond, Joe Morello on drums, and Eugene Wright on bass broke up in 1967, aside from a re-union of the original members in 1976 Brubeck went on to form another quartet which changed slightly over the years and included his sons. The Quartet has continued to tour the world playing hits from their classic period to new compositions. From 2000 the line-up featured Brubeck, Bobby Militello (alto saxophone, tenor saxophone, flute), Michael Moore (double bass) and Randy Jones (drums).
Brubeck was born in 1920 in Concord, California, his father was a cattle rancher and his mother a music teacher who apparently had five pianos in the house. Brubeck was taught from the age of five although his musical career path was by no means a certainty. Whilst at college he planned to become a vet but that didn’t last for long.
“After my first year in veterinary pre-med I switched to the music department … and that was at the advice of my zoology teacher,” Brubeck said in a Reuters interview.
“He said ‘Brubeck, your mind is not here, with these frogs and formaldehyde. Your mind is across the lawn at the conservatory. Will you please go over there.'”
He later studied composition under French composer Darius Milhaud and moved to the San Francisco bay area in 1940 where he formed an experimental jazz Octet which saw him at the height of his interest in an advanced harmonic language (learnt from Milhaud). He formed a trio in 1950 and was joined by Paul Desmond in 1951 which transformed the band entirely. Brubeck and Desmond had a mutual understanding that led to some great improvisations such as on ‘Over the Rainbow’.
The actor and director Clint Eastwood, a well known jazz fan, produced a documentary on Brubeck which was aired in 2010 as Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way. Eastwood is also the honorary chairman of The Brubeck Institute which was created by the University of the Pacific to support jazz students and promote Brubeck’s music.
He is survived by his wife, Iola; four sons; a daughter, Catherine Yaghsizian; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.