One of jazz's greatest artists and one of the few to cross over with a mainstream hit, Dave Brubeck, passed away on Wednesday at the age of 91.
Brubeck died of heart failure while en route to a cardiologist appointment with his son Russell. He would have been 92 on Thursday.
During his 63 year recording career, Brubeck had many milestones but none as big as his 1959 album Time Out. An experimental album using styles he had heard during a tour of Europe and Asia, Brubeck played with numerous odd time signatures including 5/4 in his signature track Take Five and 9/8 in the almost equal classic Blue Rondo a la Turk. The album reached number 2 on the Billboard Album chart and Take Five went to 5 on the Adult Contemporary and 25 on the pop singles. It also was the first jazz albums to sell over one million copies.
Brubeck was born to a ranching family in northern California although his mother was a trained pianist. He originally went to the College of the Pacific to become a veterinarian but, at the urging of his professor, he transferred to the conservatory to major in music. He was drafted from the school to serve under George Patton during World War II but his musical ability kept him away from the front, entertaining troops with one of the first integrated bands, The Wolfpack. He also met the man who would become his longtime collaborator while serving, saxophonist Paul Desmond.
After the war and graduating from college, Brubeck helped form Fantasy Records and played with an octet that also included Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty. In 1951, he reduced the group to a quartet which included Desmond and built a large following playing at college campuses. In 1954, he signed with Columbia Records and became only the second musician to be on the cover of Time magazine (Louis Armstrong was the first).
Over the remainder of the 50's, Brubeck and his group recorded 14 albums for Columbia leading up to the classic Time Out. Over the next few years, Brubeck would continue to experiment with various odd time signatures on albums like Time Further Out: Miro Reflections (1961), Countdown: Time in Outer Space (1962), Time Changes (1963) and Time In (1966). These were mixed in among many other releases with the group sometimes putting out four albums per year. Dave was also the program director of WJZZ-FM in Bridgeport, CT, the first radio station to play a full jazz format.
Brubeck broke up the quartet in 1967 and he moved on to writing longer pieces for both orchestras and choruses and to be with his family. For the rest of his career, he spent time both composing and touring, playing with almost every major symphony. In addition, he eventually formed a new version of the quartet for touring and played with Two Generations of Brubeck with his sons Darius, Chris and Danny.
Among Brubeck's multitude of awards are the National Medal of the Arts, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian Medal, the Living Legacy Award from the Kennedy Center. He is a member of the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, California Hall of Fame and the DownBeat Hall of Fame.
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