Obituary: Dave Brubeck
- 5 December 2012
- From the section Entertainment & Arts
Dave Brubeck wrote more than 250 pieces of music, toured concert halls from California to the Far East and performed in front of four US Presidents - a huge workload for someone who, after all, told the rest of us to Take Five.
With his saxophonist Paul Desmond and the rest of the celebrated Quartet, Brubeck was an integral part of the West Coast Cool sound that characterised American jazz throughout the 1950s and '60s.
Their 1959 record Take Five was the first million-selling record in jazz history, and Brubeck its first musician to appear on the cover of Time.
Born in 1920 to a father who became a cattle rancher and a mother with her own concert pianist ambitions, Brubeck never really wanted to be in a band in the first place.
His only ambition, initially, was to be a rancher, working on the family estate in the Californian foothills.
He later started training to become a vet, but his science teacher suggested after a year that he should transfer to the music course.
Classical training only reinforced Brubeck's preference for other musical genres.
Crossing musical boundaries
His tutor Darius Millhaud told him: "If you want to express this country, you will always use the jazz idiom". Brubeck took him at his word and embarked upon a legendary career.
What started life as the Brubeck Trio was soon enhanced by the addition of Paul Desmond on the alto saxophone.
The Quartet were at the forefront of the emerging West Coast Cool Jazz movement, and their appeal to students in particular ensured their crossover into popular music.
Brubeck relied on improvisation and confessed that 90% of the band's tunes were invented as they went along. When Time magazine put Brubeck on its cover in 1954, it called him "the most exciting new jazz artist at work today".
The 1959 Time Out album, a collection of songs with different time signatures, produced Blue Rondo a la Turk and what would become the Quartet's signature tune, Take Five. This summery anthem would ensure the band's permanent position in the jazz canon.
Brubeck continued to work both with his band and on his own. While the Quartet toured extensively and took jazz into new countries, Brubeck crossed musical boundaries and created soundtracks for ballet and theatre.
Scorned by critics
His group finally disbanded in 1967, reuniting in 1976 for a one-off, 25th anniversary tour.
But Brubeck continued to make music, whether it was for ballet, cantatas, classical pieces or Native American-inspired sound, on his own or with any of his three sons, all jazz artists themselves.
He received countless musical awards and was made Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University. Away from jazz, his music came to rely increasingly on a more prepared composition than the free swing which first made his name.
Brubeck suffered at the hands of musical critics, who poured scorn on his piano-playing technique.
But he referred to himself as in essence "a composer who plays the piano" and, for his massive audiences, the sounds of Dave Brubeck's Quartet defined modern jazz for a generation, and its inspiring leader has left a singular legacy.