Legendary jazz composer and musician Dave Brubeck died this morning, December 5, at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut, just one day shy of his 92nd birthday. Brubeck, who was born in Concord, California, is best known for his 1959 piece “Take Five,” from the album “Time Out.” “Take Five” is one of the most complex jazz instrumentals every composed and helped to redefine the musical genre. He moved it beyond the “4/4 time,” or what he called “march-style jazz.” “Time Out” became the first jazz album to sell a million copies.
Brubeck’s mother had forbade him and his two brothers from listening to music; believing that, if you wanted to hear music, you should play it. The Brubeck brothers all played various instruments and studied classical music, as well as spirituals and cowboy songs. Born cross-eyed, Dave Brubeck learned most of this music by ear, since sight-reading was difficult. At the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California, Brubeck was initially intent on pursuing a career in veterinary medicine. But, as he worked his way through college as a pianist in jazz bands, he switched his major to music. While in college, Brubeck met and married Iola Whitlock. Upon graduation, though, he was immediately drafted into the military, as part of U.S. involvement in World War II.
In 1946 Brubeck formed an octet and three years later, created the Dave Brubeck Trio. He formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 following a near fatal car crash.
In 1954 Brubeck became only the second jazz musician, after Louis Armstrong, to be featured on the cover of Time magazine.
In 1999 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.
Brubeck’s son Michael died in 2009. In addition to his other sons and his daughter, Brubeck is survived by his wife; 10 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.
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.”