Dec. 6, 1920 – Dec. 5, 2012
Dave Brubeck, a jazz pianist who had unparalleled commercial success, expanding musical boundaries and carrying jazz throughout the world, died Wednesday at a hospital in Norwalk, Conn., one day before his 92nd birthday.
His manager, Russell Gloyd, said Brubeck was on his way to a regular medical checkup when his heart gave out.
In a seven-decade career, Brubeck wrote hundreds of tunes, including the oft-recorded “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “The Duke.” His quartet, featuring alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, was one of the most popular jazz groups in history and in 1959 recorded the million-selling instrumental hit “Take Five.”
Brubeck composed ambitious classical and choral works, released nearly 100 albums and remained a charismatic performer into old age. In December 2010, the month Brubeck turned 90, his quartet won the readers’ poll of DownBeat magazine as the best group in jazz – 57 years after he first won it.
Brubeck had an abiding connection to Buffalo. He appeared in concert here every year or two, performing with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, appearing in the first season at the University at Buffalo Center for the Arts in 1994 and playing two sold-out dates at The Tralf in 2004 during the final weeks that the club was under the management of Bobby Militello, the Buffalo jazz saxophone and flute player who toured with the Brubeck band worldwide for 30 years.
Militello, noting that he just sent Brubeck a package of sponge candy for his birthday, said Wednesday night that Brubeck “gave me the opportunity to do things that I never imagined. I learned that he was on a quest, always. He never stopped working at his craft.”
“But for a guy that earned the greatest accolades all over the world, he was really just a grounded guy. He was just Dave,” he added.
Brubeck helped raise money for Computers for Children with a charity concert at the Hyatt Regency Buffalo on his 81st birthday in 2001.
In 1994, he performed the Mass he composed for the first time in a religious service in St. Joseph-University Catholic Church, accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra, a 110-voice Opera Sacra choir, a 30-voice children’s choir, two soloists and a priest.
“I wrote it because a man raised in Buffalo – Ed Murray – would not take ‘no’ for an answer,” he told an interviewer then.
Murray was liturgy editor for “Our Sunday Visitor,” a Catholic publication, and kept pestering Brubeck to compose a Mass.
Brubeck studied in the 1940s with the experimental French composer Darius Milhaud, who encouraged his interest in jazz. Brubeck was among the first jazz musicians to make wide use of polytonality, or playing in more than one musical key at a time. He was also an early advocate of “world music,” adopting exotic sounds that he heard in his worldwide travels.
After forming his quartet in California in the early 1950s, Brubeck sought to branch out from the dank nightclubs of San Francisco and Los Angeles. His wife, Iola, suggested that the quartet perform on college campuses, which produced a nationwide sensation, with record sales to match.
With the release of “Time Out” in 1959, Brubeck had the first jazz album to sell more than 1 million copies. It reached No. 2 on the pop charts, and its eternally catchy signature tune, “Take Five,” became a surprise hit.
“Take Five” became a staple of his concerts and helped make the Dave Brubeck Quartet the most popular jazz group of the 1950s and 1960s.
He defied the raffish image of the jazz musician; instead he was a family man who lived with his wife and six children. After early struggles, he was reportedly earning more than $100,000 a year by 1954, the year he became the second jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine (after Louis Armstrong in 1949).
Some musicians and critics openly resented his success, and others questioned his prominence in a form of music that was created primarily by black musicians.
But Brubeck was an outspoken advocate of racial harmony and often used his music as a platform for cross-cultural understanding. He once canceled 23 of 25 concerts in the South when local officials would not allow his African-American bass player, Eugene Wright, to appear with the rest of the group.
David Warren Brubeck was born Dec. 6, 1920, in Concord, Calif. He and his family lived on a 45,000-acre ranch; his father was a champion rodeo roper, and his mother was a conservatory-trained pianist who had studied in London. She gave her three sons a surprisingly advanced musical education, and Brubeck’s two older brothers, Henry and Howard, became music teachers and composers.
News Staff Reporter Dale Anderson contributed to story.