Jazz musician Dave Brubeck has died at the age of 91. The pianist became a household name in the ‘50s with his groundbreaking recordings like “Take Five” and “In Your Own Sweet Way.” Known for his unusual time signatures, Brubeck blended classical training with a flair for improvisation.
Brubeck was inspired to form a band while playing piano during a Red Cross show in WWII. His group, The Wolfpack, was one of the armed forces’ first integrated bands. After the war, he came back to the states to study piano, and later started working more often with saxophonist and composer Paul Desmond, whom he had met during the war.
In 1951, Brubeck organized the Dave Brubeck Quartet with Desmond on sax. They played regularly in San Francisco and toured college campuses, releasing a series of albums recorded at those shows, including Brubeck’s debut on Columbia Records, Jazz Goes To College. Brubeck was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1954—only the second jazz musician to appear there, after Louis Armstrong in 1949.
Notably, Brubeck refused to play segregated jazz clubs, canceling several concerts and television appearances because club owners and producers had objections to his integrated band.
In 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet released Time Out, which featured a number of original compositions written in unusual time signatures inspired by Eurasian folk music. That album went platinum and included tracks like “Take Five,” “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” and “Three To Get Ready.” Several similar albums followed, including Countdown: Time In Outer Space, released in 1962 and dedicated to astronaut John Glenn.
In the early ‘60s, the Quartet was especially prolific, releasing as many as four albums per year, including the excellent At Carnegie Hall and a series of Jazz Impressions albums inspired by the group’s travels.
The quartet disbanded in 1967, allowing Brubeck to devote more time to the longer works he’d become more interested in. He wrote several orchestral pieces, including an oratorio on Jesus’ teachings called The Light In The Wilderness and a cantata called The Gates Of Justice that mixed the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. with even more biblical messages. He joined the Catholic Church in 1980, right around the time he completed To Hope, a mass commissioned by the national Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor.
In 1996, Brubeck received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2000, with wife Iola, he founded the Brubeck Institute at the University Of The Pacific. He was a 2009 Kennedy Center Honoree and earned honorary doctorates from several universities. He released well over 100 records in his lifetime, his last being 2011’s Their Last Time Out, a recording of his Quartet from 1967.
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