Dave Brubeck passes away at the age of 91
Legendary jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck passed away earlier today in Norwalk, Connecticut at the age of 91, just a day shy of his 92nd birthday. Brubeck wrote and played on numerous indelible jazz numbers throughout his distinguished and prodigious musical career. And with his landmark Time Out album in 1959, which prominently featured the smash hit "Take Five," the first jazz single to sell a million copies, Brubeck and his talented band mates gave many novice jazz fans a welcome entry point into the occasionally inscrutable genre.
Brubeck was born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, California, and grew up surrounded by the pristine farmlands and cattle ranches that his father managed. He played various instruments as a youngster with his two brothers, but didn't begin studying music until his second year at the College of the Pacific. He joined the Army band after being drafted in 1942, which was where he met his longtime musical partner, Paul Desmond (who played alto saxophone in Brubeck's famous quartet, and actually wrote "Take Five).
While many traditional jazz musicians begrudged Brubeck his eventual fame (clearly jealous that it wasn't them on the cover of Time magazine in 1954 following the runaway success of Jazz Goes To College), and critics lashed out at his group for not playing "real" jazz, Brubeck and his imaginative quartet continued to play around with time signatures and polytonality, while crafting a distinct sound that has consistently found an audience -- from the '50s straight through the modern day. Brubeck continued to play live when he was able (even performing at Manhattan's legendary Blue Note as recently as 2010, a mere month after undergoing heart surgery).
In a career full of accolades and commercial triumphs, Brubeck was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1999, and in 2009 he received a Kennedy Center Honor for everything he has given to not only the world of jazz but American culture in general.
It was just prior to the Kennedy Center Honors in 2009 that Brubeck played a run of six historic shows over three nights at the Dakota Jazz Club, delighting Twin Cities jazz fans from behind the club's Steinway. The quartet for those memorable performances featured saxophonist Bobby Militello, bassist Michael Moore, and drummer Randy Jones.
Brubeck, who was 89-years-old at the time of his Dakota shows, still had no trouble keeping and capturing everyone's attention during each of his 90-minute sets, drawing on old jazz standards as well as his own illustrious back catalog to delight fans of all ages who were assembled to get a look and give a listen to a true master of his craft.
Brubeck consistently created imaginative, engaging songs that reached fans of all types of music, and removed part of the impenetrable stigma that was unfairly attached to jazz music by people who failed to dig too deep into its form and culture. Brubeck was the rare musician of his era who was both commercially and (eventually) critically acclaimed, but he was first and foremost a music fan himself who made a living out of doing something he truly loved.
Brubeck was initially reluctant to add his own small original part to the music cannon at first, getting his start playing standards while being convinced that no one wanted to hear his own original work. But thankfully, in time, he shared his tremendous gifts with us all, leaving the music world and the world at large forever changed for the better. Rest in peace, Mr. Brubeck.