Jazz legend whose career spanned post-war era

Sat, Dec 8, 2012, 00:00

DAVE BRUBECK:Jazz composer and pianist Dave Brubeck, whose pioneering style in pieces such as Take Five caught listeners' ears with exotic, challenging rhythms, has died aged 91 of heart failure after being taken ill while on his way to a cardiology appointment. Brubeck would have turned 92 on Thursday.

Brubeck had a career that spanned almost all American jazz since the second World War. He formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 and was the first modern jazz musician to be pictured on the cover of Time magazine - on November 8th, 1954 - and he helped define the swinging, smoky rhythms of 1950s and 1960s club jazz.

The seminal album Time Out, released by the quartet in 1959, was the first million-selling jazz LP, and is still among the best-selling jazz albums of all time. It opens with piano-and-saxophone whirlwind Blue Rondo a la Turk.

The album also features Take Five which became the quartet's signature theme and even made the billboard singles chart in 1961. It was composed by Brubeck's long-time saxophonist, Paul Desmond.

"When you start out with goals - mine were to play polytonally and polyrhythmically - you never exhaust that," said Brubeck in 1995. "I started doing that in the 1940s. It's still a challenge to discover what can be done with just those two elements."

After service in the second World War Brubeck formed an octet including Desmond on alto sax and Dave van Kreidt on tenor, Cal Tjader on drums and Bill Smith on clarinet. The group played Brubeck originals and standards by other composers. Their groundbreaking album Dave Brubeck Octet was recorded in 1946.

The group evolved into the quartet, which played colleges and universities. The quartet's first album, Jazz at Oberlin, was recorded live at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1953.

Ten years later, Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass joined Brubeck and Desmond to produce Time Out.

In 1988 Brubeck played for Mikhail Gorbachev, at a dinner in Moscow that then-president Ronald Reagan hosted for the Soviet leader.

In 2006, the University of Notre Dame gave Brubeck its Laetare Medal, awarded each year to a Roman Catholic "whose genius has ennobled the arts and sciences, illustrated the ideals of the church and enriched the heritage of humanity". At the age of 88 Brubeck was still touring, despite a viral infection that threatened his heart and made him miss an April show at his alma mater, the University of the Pacific.

More acclaim came his way when it was announced that he would be a recipient of the Kennedy Centre Honours at a ceremony in late 2009. Brubeck was born in Concord, California, in December 1920, and had planned to become a rancher like his father.

He attended the College of the Pacific (now University of the Pacific) in 1938, intending to major in veterinary medicine and return to the family's 45,000-acre spread.

But within a year Brubeck was drawn to music. He graduated in music in 1942 and was drafted by the army, where he served - mostly as a musician - under Gen George S Patton in Europe. At the time, his Wolfpack Band was the only racially integrated unit in the military.

In an interview for Ken Burns's PBS miniseries Jazz, Brubeck talked about playing for troops with his integrated band, only to return to the United States to see his black bandmates refused service in a restaurant in Texas.

Brubeck and his wife, Iola, had five sons and a daughter.