Dave Brubeck Day

December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012

 

A tribute to the popular and innovative pianist-bandleader

Pianist, leader and composer Dave Brubeck was born December 6, 1920 in Concord, California.

Brubeck grew up near San Francisco and took piano lessons early on from his mother but did not learn to read music, hiding that flaw with his great ear.

While attending the College of the Pacific, Brubeck was nearly expelled when it was discovered that he could not read music but he quickly learned.

He spent 1942-46 in the Army where he met Paul Desmond, and after his discharge he studied with composer Darius Milhaud at Mills College.

Brubeck led an adventurous octet during 1947-49 that made one album but rarely worked, and had better luck leading a trio during 1950-51.

In 1951 he formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Desmond featured on alto, a group that, while changing bassists and drummers, lasted for 16 years.

Brubeck’s chordal style (which sometimes showed the influence of modern classical music), Desmond’s beautiful tone and witty phrases, and their regular performances at college campuses resulted in Brubeck becoming one of the most popular of all jazz musicians, without ever compromising his style.

Dave Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1954, signed with the Columbia label, and by 1958 his quartet featured bassist Eugene Wright and drummer Joe Morello (who both stayed until 1967), making many tours of the world.

The 1959 album Time Out, which introduced Desmond’s “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” was a giant hit and, in addition to other albums that featured music in unusual time signatures, was followed by collaborations with Jimmy Rushing, Carmen McRae, and Louis Armstrong (in Dave and Iola Brubeck’s anti-racism play The Real Ambassadors).

After the breakup of the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1967, the pianist (who earlier had composed a pair of standards in “The Duke” and “In Your Own Sweet Way”), wrote major religious works, put together a new quartet with baritonist Gerry Mulligan, had reunions with Desmond, and led Two Generations of Brubeck which included his sons keyboardist Darius, Chris on bass and bass trombone, and Dan on drums.

Brubeck never retired or slowed down, leading a quartet that featured Bobby Militello on alto and flute (along with bassist Michael Moore and drummer Randy Jones) during his final decade, passing away the day before what would have been his 92nd birthday.

Dave Brubeck is featured with his classic quartet at a 1964 concert in Belgium playing his “In Your Own Sweet Way.”

-Scott Yanow