December 6th, 1920 to December 5th, 2012
December 6th, 1920 to December 5th, 2012
Dave Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on alto sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums.
"Jazz legend Dave Brubeck dies at 91"
Pianist and composer Dave Brubeck won legions of fans over a six-decade career with his complex rhythms and harmonies. His quartet's 'Take Five' was the first million-selling jazz recording.
December 5th, 2012
Los Angeles Times
Dave Brubeck, the pianist and composer whose use of polyrhythms, complex harmonies and classical forms propelled a six-decade career that made him one of the world's most popular jazz artists, died Wednesday. He was 91.
Brubeck, who had a history of heart trouble, became unresponsive on his way to a medical appointment, said his longtime manager and producer Russell Gloyd. "His son was in the car with him and noticed that he wasn't responding," Gloyd said. Brubeck was rushed to a hospital in Norwalk, Conn., where he was pronounced dead.
"His heart just gave out," Gloyd said.
Brubeck would have turned 92 on Thursday.
Best known for his work with his classic Dave Brubeck Quartet that included longtime musical partner Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums, Brubeck's innovative ideas generated an enthusiastic response from a new audience of young listeners — as well as the players most directly connected with his music.
"When Dave is playing his best it's a profoundly moving thing to experience, emotionally and intellectually," Desmond told writer Nat Hentoff in a 1952 interview in the jazz publication Down Beat. "It's completely free, live improvisation ... the vigor and force of simple jazz, the harmonic complexities of Bartok and Milhaud, the form [and much of the dignity] of Bach and, at times, the lyrical romanticism of Rachmaninoff."
In the late 1950s, the group began exploring unusual rhythmic meters. By the end of the decade, the album "Time Out" reached No. 2 on the pop music album charts, and a single off the album — with "Take Five" on one side and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" on the other — became the first jazz recording to sell more than a million copies.
Written by Desmond, "Take Five" became a universally recognized jazz classic despite the offbeat 5/4 rhythmic meter.
The group's popularity began to climb in the mid-1950s when a series of live college recordings — "Jazz Goes to College," "Jazz Goes to Junior College" and "Jazz Goes to Oberlin" — was released. Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1954, a highly visible honor in those years and only the second for a jazz artist. (Louis Armstrong was first, in 1949.)
The New Yorker magazine described the quartet as "the world's best-paid, most widely traveled, most highly publicized, and most popular small group now playing improvised syncopated music." But Brubeck's fascination with, and frequent employment of groundbreaking elements not generally included in the jazz styles of the '50s, also made his music a target of widespread disparagement from jazz critics. The negative response often seemed inversely proportional to Brubeck's growing popularity. One of the phrases most frequently used was a reference to his allegedly "heavy handed, bombastic approach" to piano improvising. Ironically, the words directly contradicted another critical view, which identified the music of Brubeck and Desmond as another example of the "effete, laid-back, West Coast cool jazz style."
Most of the criticism, however, failed to recognize the complex range of elements — from stride piano to a Bach canon — that could course through any given performance, sometimes within the boundaries of a single piece of music. And Brubeck often cited, in interviews and articles, the positive response his music received from legendary jazz figures including Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, among others.
And, although Davis had some occasionally negative things to say publicly about Brubeck's surge to prominence in the '50s, he nonetheless recorded a pair of the pianist's tunes before the decade was over — "In Your Own Sweet Way" in 1957 and "The Duke" in 1959 — both of which have become classic Davis performances.
David Warren Brubeck was born Dec. 6, 1920, in Concord, Calif. His father, Howard "Pete" Brubeck, was a cattle rancher, his mother, Elizabeth Ivey Brubeck, a pianist and music teacher. When he was 11, the family moved to a 45,000-acre ranch near Ione, Calif., in the Sierra foothills. Music was part of his environment from the beginning.
"When we were born, we were all put near the piano to listen to [my mother] practicing," he told Len Lyons in his book, "The Great Jazz Pianists: Speaking of Their Lives and Their Music." "I heard Chopin, Liszt, Mozart and Bach from infancy."
Unlike older brothers Howard and Henry, both of whom became classical musicians, Brubeck's primary interests were ranching, horseback riding and playing improvised versions of pop songs on the piano. By the time he was a teenager, he was playing at dances on weekends, and doing his daily chores on the ranch.
Brubeck chose veterinary medicine in his first year at what is now the University of the Pacific in Stockton, switching to music when his science advisor suggested he might have more talent in that area. Using his extraordinary innate musical skills, he managed to work his way through the bachelor's degree program without learning to properly read music.
He was drafted into the Army after graduation in 1942, marrying Iola Marie Whitlock just before he was sent for training in Southern California, and to France in 1944.
Discharged in 1946, he went to Mills College in Oakland on the GI Bill, studying with French composer Darius Milhaud and organizing the Brubeck Octet. Although it was active at the same time as Davis' similarly instrumented, but more influential, Birth of the Cool group, the Brubeck Octet was more musically adventurous, its repertoire reaching from imaginatively harmonized standard tunes to works exploring the outer limits of the avant-garde.
Brubeck's trio, which he led from 1949 to 1951, provided a different, more intimate forum for his far-reaching ideas. Mostly playing familiar standards, the group that included bassist Ron Crotty and drummer/vibist Cal Tjader also utilized Brubeck's originals, which embraced everything from lyrical ballads to classically oriented compositions.
In 1951, he added Desmond to his trio. It was the beginning of a passage into national visibility that would establish both Brubeck and Desmond as significant jazz figures. The quartet, which remained together until 1967 and was briefly reunited in 1976, a year before Desmond's death, became the most important vehicle for Brubeck's playing, as well as his innovative musical ideas.
Brubeck's sometimes empathetic, sometimes confrontational musical partnership with Desmond was the driving force for those ideas. Brubeck was the engine, his visceral chording providing lift-off power for Desmond's soaring melodic interpretations of Brubeck originals and tunes from the Great American Songbook.
Often, during the quartet's improvised passages, Brubeck would shift into Baroque mode, tossing out a phrase clearly intended to trigger a contrapuntal response from Desmond, who always reacted with appropriate musical élan. The intimacy of their musical interaction also took place as quasi-verbal subtexts within musical dialogues — with the intellectually sardonic Desmond choosing a fragment of melody to identify the title of a popular song or a classical piece, and Brubeck countering it immediately with a continuation of the melody or a contrasting phrase, identifying the title of a different piece.
In a 1961 New Yorker profile, Robert Rice described a typical example that took place during a Quartet performance of "Blue Rondo a la Turk" in which Desmond inserted a quote from "Try a Little Tenderness." "Desmond," wrote Rice, responded "with a loud burst from 'You're Driving Me Crazy! — What Did I Do?' "
Despite their sometime confrontational relationship, Desmond gave Brubeck full credit for being the driving force behind the creation of "Take Five."
"At that point, we had three or four albums a year to get done," he told CBC Radio in 1976. "And [Dave] said, 'Why don't we do ... all different time signatures? ... We got 2/4, 3/4 or 4/4, 5/4, 6/4, 7/4, 8/4, whatever. Why don't you take 5/4.' So I wrote 'Take Five.' At the time, I really thought it was kind of a throwaway. But it was Dave's idea, so give him ultimate credit."
In 1967, Brubeck disbanded the quartet to concentrate on composition, primarily sacred works and classical pieces, usually with jazz references. But the lure of improvisation was strong, and he began to pair frequently with baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan as the "The Dave Brubeck Trio with Gerry Mulligan."
At the time, describing the experience of collaborating with Brubeck, Mulligan was upbeat: "I haven't played this well in five years."
After reorganizing the quartet with Desmond in 1976 and performing together until the saxophonist's death in 1977, Brubeck continued to maintain the quartet format with various other players, including clarinetist Bill Smith and saxophonist Bobby Militello. Among the many ensembles he led over succeeding decades was "Two Generations of Brubeck," including his musician sons Dan, Darius and Chris.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet appeared and recorded with Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic in 1959, entertained world leaders at the 1988 Gorbachev-Reagan summit in Moscow, and frequently appeared at the White House, before other heads of state, as well as Pope John Paul II. Brubeck's 80th birthday was celebrated in 2000, featuring four of his sons as soloists in an all-Brubeck program with the London Symphony Orchestra.
Reaching well beyond Brubeck's jazz roots, his large-scale works included a jazz musical ("The Real Ambassadors," which was recorded in 1961 with Louis Armstrong, Carmen McRae and Lambert, Hendrix & Ross) a jazz opera ("Cannery Row"), ballets, an oratorio, cantatas, and a Mass, as well as numerous songs and piano pieces.
Despite Brubeck's continued popularity, numerous successes, extraordinary creative versatility and obvious capacity to sell records, it took many jazz critics decades to reconsider their early responses to his music.
In his 1995 book "Cats of Any Color," former Down Beat editor Gene Lees wrote, "I was intimidated by those I thought must know more than I, keeping an uncourageous silence about Dave's playing .... The public was right; the critics were wrong."
The critical attitudes toward Brubeck were rarely present in the public view of his music. From the time he formed the quartet with Desmond and began the college tours, the response was glowing from fans if not from critics.
Brubeck finally got around to addressing at least one aspect of the criticism, offering a succinct rebuttal in the liner notes to his 1993 four-CD boxed set, "Dave Brubeck: Time Signatures — a Career Retrospective": "The word 'bombastic' keeps coming up .... Damn it," he wrote, "When I'm bombastic I have my reasons: I want to be bombastic. Take it or leave it."
He also was criticized for the alleged stiffness of his rhythmic playing — "He doesn't swing" was a common complaint — and for the use of classical elements in his music.
Brubeck had a response for that, as well, saying, "Any jackass can swing. But to try something new and swing at the same time, that's hard."
In addition to the condemnation of his music, some of the disparagement suggested that racial favoritism was a factor in Brubeck's successes, even though Brubeck was from the beginning a highly visible activist in the civil rights movement. At one time he refused to appear with the quartet on the "Bell Telephone Hour" television show after he was asked to replace Wright, an African American, with a white bassist.
At 6-feet-2 with his strong, cowpuncher hands, broad shoulders, aquiline Indian profile and magisterial head of hair, Brubeck was an impressive presence. In his early years, at a time when audiences in jazz clubs were not used to sitting quietly and concentrating on the music, he did not hesitate to personally inform excessively loud patrons that it would be in their best interest to either quiet down or leave the premises.
I Although he was away from home more than 250 nights a year during the quartet's busiest periods, Brubeck's dedication to his wife, Iola, resulted in more than six decades of married life together. She frequently served as lyricist on projects such as the jazz musical "The Real Ambassadors," various religious works and songs.
Among his many awards, Brubeck received several honorary degrees, was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame, declared a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts and selected as a BMI Jazz Pioneer. He also received a Living Legacy Jazz Award from the Kennedy Center, the Arison Award from the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts, and was awarded the National Medal of the Arts, a NARAS Lifetime Achievement Award, the Smithsonian Medal and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2009, he received a lifetime achievement award from the Kennedy Center Honors.
Brubeck and his wife Iola had a daughter, Catherine, and five sons, Darius, Chris, Dan, Matthew and Michael.
"Dave Brubeck, Who Helped Put Jazz Back in Vogue, Dies at 91"
December 5th, 2012
The New York Times
Dave Brubeck, a pianist and composer whose distinctive mixture of experimentation and accessibility made him one of the most popular jazz musicians of the 1950s and ’60s, died Wednesday morning in Norwalk, Conn. He would have turned 92 on Thursday.
He died while on his way to a cardiology appointment, Russell Gloyd, his producer, conductor and manager for 36 years, said. Mr. Brubeck lived in Wilton, Conn.
In a long and successful career, Mr. Brubeck helped repopularize jazz at a time when younger listeners had been trained to the sonic dimensions of the three-minute pop single. His quartet’s 1959 recording of “Take Five” was the first jazz single to sell a million copies.
Mr. Brubeck experimented with time signatures and polytonality and explored musical theater and the oratorio, baroque compositional devices and foreign modes. But he did not always please the critics, who often described his music as schematic, bombastic and — a word he particularly disliked — stolid. His very stubbornness and strangeness — the polytonality, the blockiness of his playing, the oppositional push-and-pull between his piano and Paul Desmond’s alto saxophone — makes the Brubeck quartet’s best work still sound original.
Outside of the group’s most famous originals, which had the charm and durability of pop songs (“Time Out,” “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” “It’s a Raggy Waltz”), some of its best work was in its overhauls of standards like “You Go to My Head,” “All the Things You Are” and “Pennies From Heaven.”
David Warren Brubeck was born on Dec. 6, 1920, in Concord, Calif., near San Francisco. Surrounded by farms, his family lived a bucolic life: his father, Pete, was a cattle buyer for a meat company, and his mother, Elizabeth, was a choir director at the nearby Presbyterian church. When Mr. Brubeck was 11, the family moved to Ione, Calif., where his father managed a 45,000-acre cattle ranch and owned his own 1,200 acres.
Forbidden to listen to the radio — his mother believed that if you wanted to hear music you should play it — Mr. Brubeck and his two brothers all played various instruments and knew classical études, spirituals and cowboy songs. Dave learned most of this music by ear: because he was born cross-eyed, sight-reading was nearly impossible for him through his early development as a musician.
When he was 14, a laundryman who led a dance band encouraged him to perform in public, at Lions Club gatherings and Western-swing dances; he was paid $8 for playing from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., with a one-hour break. But until he went to college he was an aspiring rancher, not an aspiring musician.
At the College of the Pacific, near Stockton, he first studied to be a veterinarian but switched to music after a year. It was there that he learned about 20th-century culture and read about Freud, Marx and serial music; it was also there that he met Iola Whitlock, a fellow student, who became his wife in 1942.
He graduated that year and was immediately drafted. For two years he played with the Army band at Camp Haan, in Southern California. In 1944 Private Brubeck became a rifleman, entering basic training — first in Texas, then in Maryland — and was shortly sent to Metz, in eastern France, for further preparation for combat.
When his new commanding officer heard him accompany a Red Cross traveling show one day, Mr. Brubeck recalled, he told his aide-de-camp, “I don’t want that boy to go to the front.” Thereafter, Mr. Brubeck led a band that was trucked into combat areas to play for the troops. He was near the front twice, during the Battle of the Bulge, but he never fought.
Finished with the Army at 25, Mr. Brubeck moved with his wife into an apartment in Oakland, Calif., and, on a G.I. Bill scholarship, studied at Mills College with the French composer Darius Milhaud. Milhaud asked the jazz musicians in his class to write fugues for jazz ensembles, and Mr. Brubeck played the results at a series of performances at Mills College. Mr. Brubeck had such admiration for his teacher that he named his first son, born in 1947, Darius.
Mr. Brubeck had met his most important musical colleague, Paul Desmond, in an Army band in 1943. Mr. Desmond was a perfect foil; his lovely, impassive tone was as ethereal as Mr. Brubeck’s style was densely chorded. In 1947 they met again and found instant musical rapport, fascinated by the challenge of using counterpoint in jazz.
Mr. Brubeck’s first group, an octet formed in 1946, contained five of Milhaud’s students and played pieces influenced by his teachings, using canonlike elements. The group’s earliest recorded work predated a much more famous set of similarly temperate jazz recordings, the 1948-50 Miles Davis Nonet work later packaged as “Birth of the Cool.”
In the late 1940s and early ’50s Mr. Brubeck also led a trio with Ron Crotty on bass and Cal Tjader on drums. It was around this time that he started to develop an audience. He was given an initial boost by the San Francisco disc jockey Jimmy Lyons, later the founder of the Monterey Jazz Festival, who plugged the band on KNBC radio and helped secure it a record deal with the Coronet label.
In 1951 the trio expanded to a quartet, with Mr. Desmond returning. (The permanent lineup change was perhaps inevitable, as Mr. Desmond was desperate to join his old friend’s increasingly popular band, but it may also have had to do with physical necessity: Mr. Brubeck had suffered a serious neck injury while swimming in Hawaii, limiting his dexterity, and he needed another soloist to help carry the music.)
Quickly the constitutionally different men — Mr. Brubeck open, ambitious and imposing; Mr. Desmond private, profligate and self-effacing — developed their lines of musical communication. By the time of an engagement in Boston in the fall of 1952 they had become one of jazz’s greatest combinations.
The next part of the equation was a record label, and for that Mr. Brubeck had found another booster: Fantasy Records, just started by the brothers Max and Sol Weiss, who owned a record-pressing plant and had little interest in jazz apart from wanting to make a profit from it.
They did, eventually, with Mr. Brubeck. But Iola Brubeck also played a role in the growth of his audience. Before Mr. Brubeck became a client of the prominent manager Joe Glaser, she handled his business affairs. In 1953 she wrote to more than a hundred universities, suggesting that the quartet would be willing to play for student associations. The college circuit became the group’s bread and butter, and by the end of the 1950s it had sold hundreds of thousands of copies of its albums “Jazz at Oberlin” and “Jazz Goes to College.”
In 1954 Mr. Brubeck was the first jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. That same year he signed with Columbia Records, promising to deliver two albums a year, and built a house in Oakland.
For all his conceptualizing, Mr. Brubeck often seemed more guileless and stubborn country boy than intellectual. It is often noted that his piece “The Duke” — famously recorded by Miles Davis and Gil Evans in 1959 on their collaborative album “Miles Ahead” — runs through all 12 keys in the first eight bars. But Mr. Brubeck contended that he never realized that until a music professor told him.
Mr. Brubeck’s very personal musical language situated him far from the Bud Powell school of bebop rhythm and harmony; he relied much more on chords, lots and lots of them, than on sizzling, hornlike right-hand lines. (He may have come by this outsiderness naturally, as a function of his background: jazz by way of rural isolation and modernist academia. He was, Ted Gioia wrote in his book “West Coast Jazz,” “inspired by the process of improvisation rather than by its history.”)
It took a little while for Mr. Brubeck to capitalize on the greater visibility his deal with Columbia gave him, and as he accommodated success a certain segment of the jazz audience began to turn against him. (The 1957 album “Dave Digs Disney,” on which he played songs from Walt Disney movies, didn’t help his credibility among critics and connoisseurs.) Still, by the end of the decade he had broken through with mainstream audiences in a bigger way than almost any jazz musician since World War II.
In 1958, as part of a State Department program that brought jazz as an offer of good will during the cold war, his quartet traveled in the Middle East and India, and Mr. Brubeck became intrigued by musical languages that didn’t stick to 4/4 time — what he called “march-style jazz,” the meter that had been the music’s bedrock. The result was the album “Time Out,” recorded in 1959. With the hits “Take Five” (composed by Mr. Desmond in 5/4 meter and prominently featuring the quartet’s gifted drummer, Joe Morello) and “Blue Rondo à la Turk” (composed by Mr. Brubeck in 9/8), the album propelled Mr. Brubeck onto the pop charts.
Initially, Mr. Brubeck said, the album was released without high expectations from the record company. But when disc jockeys in the Midwest started playing “Take Five,” the song became a national phenomenon. After the album had been out for 18 months, Columbia released “Take Five” as a 45 r.p.m. single, edited for radio, with “Blue Rondo” on the B side. Both album and single became hits; “Time Out” has since sold close to two million copies.
In 1960, realizing that most of the quartet’s work centered on the East Coast, the Brubecks, with their children, Dan, Micharl, Chris, Darius and Catherine, moved to Wilton. They stayed there permanently and later had one more child, Matthew.
Genial as Mr. Brubeck could seem, he had strong convictions. In the 1950s he had to stand up to college deans who asked him not to perform with a racially mixed band (his bassist, Gene Wright, was black). He also refused to tour in South Africa in 1958 when asked to sign a contract stipulating that his band would be all white. With his wife as lyricist, he wrote “The Real Ambassadors,” a jazz musical that dealt with race relations. With a cast that included Louis Armstrong, it was released on LP in 1962 but staged only once, at that year’s Monterey Jazz Festival.
When Mr. Brubeck’s quartet broke up in 1967, after 17 years, he spent more time with his family and followed new paths. In 1969 he composed “Elemental” (subtitled “Concerto for Anyone Who Can Afford an Orchestra”), a concerto grosso for 45-piece ensemble. He later wrote an oratorio and four cantatas, a mass, two ballets and works for jazz combo with orchestra. Most of his commissioned pieces from the late ’60s on were classical works, many had religious or social themes, and many were collaborations with his wife.
As a composer, Mr. Brubeck used jazz to address religious themes and to bridge social and political divides. His cantata “The Gates of Justice,” from 1969, dealt with blacks and Jews in America; another cantata, “Truth Is Fallen” (1972), lamented the killing of student protesters at Kent State University in 1970, with a score including orchestra, electric guitars and police sirens. He played during the Reagan-Gorbachev summit meeting in 1988; he composed entrance music for Pope John Paul II’s visit to Candlestick Park in San Francisco in 1987; he performed for eight presidents, from Kennedy to Clinton.
In 1968 he formed a quartet with the baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, and later he began working with his musician sons Darius (a pianist), Chris (a bassist), Dan (a drummer) and Matthew (a cellist). He performed and recorded with them often, most definitively on “In Their Own Sweet Way,” a Telarc album from 1997. The classic Brubeck quartet regrouped only once, in 1976, for a 25th-anniversary tour.
Mr. Brubeck’s son Michael died a few years ago. In addition to his other sons, Mr. Brubeck is survived by his wife, Iola; a daughter, Catherine Yaghsizian; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
Mr. Brubeck resumed working with a quartet in the late 1970s — finally settling into a long-term touring group featuring the saxophonist Bobby Militello — and thereafter never stopped writing, touring and performing his hits. To the end he was a major draw at festivals.
In 1999 Mr. Brubeck was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. Ten years later he received a Kennedy Center Honor for his contribution to American culture. He gave his archives to his alma mater, now renamed the University of the Pacific.
Despite health problems, Mr. Brubeck was still working as recently as 2011. In November 2010, just a month after undergoing heart surgery and receiving a pacemaker, he performed at the Blue Note in Manhattan. Nate Chinen of The Times, noting that Mr. Brubeck had already “softened his pianism, replacing the old hammer-and-anvil attack with something almost airy,” wrote that his playing at the Blue Note “was the picture of judicious clarity, its well-placed chordal accents suggesting a riffing horn section.”
Mr. Brubeck once explained succinctly what jazz meant to him. “One of the reasons I believe in jazz,” he said, “is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear.”
Dave Brubeck Home Page
Dave Brubeck [Wikipedia]
Take Five [Wikipedia]