Jazz pioneer Dave Brubeck dies: A Master is silenced

One of America’s best known jazz musicians, pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, died earlier today at the age of 91.

WASHINGTON, November 5, 2012 – In Chicago’s famous smoky jazz clubs, Dave Brubeck was a well-known name. Our haunt was the Green Mill on Broadway where you could have a perfectly shaken martini while listening to the music of legends like Brubeck, John Coltraine, Duke Ellington and Chicago’s own Kurt Elling interpreted by the musicians on stage or via recordings.

But it was Dave Brubeck’s signature songs that received the most appreciative murmurs.

One of America’s best known jazz musicians, the pianist and composer Dave Brubeck died earlier today at the age of 91. Surely the Green Mill is playing his songs. Brubeck was one of those crossover artists that broke barriers all of his life, both musically and in the civil rights battles. 

He would have celebrated his 92 birthday tomorrow, December 6, 2012.

Brubeck’s work reflected the influence of world music from Israel, Africa, the Middle East and from the American Black artists that he played with, breaking racial barriers during his time in the service and afterwards.

He is often referred to as one of his genre’s most well traveled and best paid musicians. His music integrated world music, jazz and classical elements to create new avenues for a wholly American music style emerging during the 1940s.

Playing Chicago clubs, many of them private and owned by Playboy icon Hugh Hefner, White and Black musicians could be found playing together, creating new sounds and jazz fans with every performance. It was about the music. Always. 

David Warren “Dave” Brubeck (December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012) was born to cattle rancher father, Peter Brubeck and mother Elizabeth, whose early dream was to become a concert pianist. Brubeck was unable to read sheet music, a deficit discovered in college after leaving the veterinary science school for the conservatory at Stockton, California’s College of the Pacific (now the University of the Pacific).

When found out by his professors, he was almost expelled. However, his ability and innovation with counterpoint and harmony won them over, as long as he promised never to teach.

Appearing on CNN today, actor and jazz fan Bill Cosby related a similar story, saying “They did recognize that Dave had an ability that while not being taught, they incorporated,” Mr. Cosby say. “But according to biography and I heard Dave say this, he was asked to not tell people where he got his degree as they did not like the way he played. “

Dave Brubeck served in General Patton’s Third Army, volunteering to play for a Red Cross show, thereby avoiding the Battle of the Bulge. After the army, Brubeck attended Mills College studying under French classical master Darius Milhaud.

The Jazz Journal wrote of Brubeck in 1958, “Far from being a born jazz man, Brubeck is a creative artist, an artist who uses jazz as his means of self-impression and as a source of unbounded inspiration.”

Released in 1959, The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s “Time Out” was the first million copy selling, platinum jazz recording and it is arguably his most famous, crossing over to to reach #2 on the Billboard pop chart. The album included the recognizable “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk” singles.

Unique to jazz, the album incorporates unusual time signatures, a 9/8-time meter. Brubeck reportedly heard Turkish street musicians playing this time signature while he was touring Eurasia.

The result is an album of sultry cool sound that is described as a blend of modern, or cool, jazz that is highlighted by formal and classical music elements; and West Coast Jazz, also known for relying on compositional arrangements; versus the more free form jazz movement known as bebop or hardbop, which refers to the faster tempo, improvisational style of jazz.  

The Green Mill was once a favorite Chicago hangout for Hollywood types, including Frank Sinatra. And decades later, me.

Though at the time I had never been to Hollywood, or rubbed shoulders with the glitterati, I did enjoy that cold martini and the cool sounds of Dave Brubeck during those wintery or sultry summer Chicago North side nights.  

And those good memories are all set to the soundtrack of Dave Brubeck’s melodies. 

Dave Brubeck collected numerous awards, including a lifetime achievement Grammy in 1996. In 1999 he was named a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts, and he received Kennedy Center Honors in 2009. Then Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver inducted him in the California Hall of Fame in 2008. In September 2010 Brubeck was awarded the Miles Davis Award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival. Legendary actor/director and composer Clint Eastwood produced Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way with Bruce Ricker to commemorate Brubeck’s 90th birthday.

Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time Magazine in 1954, the same year he began working with American jazz alto saxophonist Paul Desmond (November 25, 1924 – May 30, 1977). Desmond is credited with writing “Take Five” for the Quartet.

Mr. Brubeck, aged 91, (December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012) passed in Norwalk, Connecticut on Wednesday, December 5, 2012, of heart failure. His wife, Iola; four sons and a daughter; grandsons and a great granddaughter survive him. 

Wikipedia was used to reference this article. 


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Jacquie Kubin

Jacquie Kubin is an award winning journalist that began writing in 1993 following a successful career in marketing and advertising in Chicago.  She started Communities Digital News in 2009 as a way to adapt to the changing online journalism marketing place.  Jacquie is President and Managing Editor of Communities Digital News, LLC and a frequent contributor to The Washington Times Communities as well as a member of the National Association of Professional Woman, New American Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalist.  Email Jacquie here

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