by: Martin Chilton
Dave Brubeck, the pioneering jazz composer and pianist and one of the grand old men of American music, has died of heart failure. He would have been 92 today.
David Warren Brubeck, who was born in Concord, California, on 6 December 1920, achieved astonishing popularity for his craft: he had the first million-selling jazz album, 1959’s Time Out, and was also the first modern jazz musician to be pictured on the cover of Time magazine.
The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s pieces such asTake Five have become became enduring standards and owed much to the graceful alto saxophone playing of composer Paul Desmond. That song became the group’s signature theme and although Take Five, and Blue Rondo à la Turk were staples at his concerts for decades, he didn’t mind calls for the obvious choices. “How could I get bored? They come out different every time I play them,” he once joked. Joe Dodge on drums and Bob Bates on bass made up the quartet.
Brubeck was in the thick of jazz’s evolution from swing and bebop to hard bop, cool jazz, and orchestral jazz with a global flavour. He was always willing to take on a challenge, whether it was performing with classical star Yo-Yo Ma or composing a jazz-opera version of the John Steinbeck novel Cannery Row. He was the subject of an acclaimed documentary film by Clint Eastwood called Dave Brubeck – In His Own Sweet Way,in 2010.
Brubeck was also broad-minded about music. When his 80th birthday was celebrated in London with a concert featuring the London Symphony Orchestra, he told British jazz musicians about his deep admiration for some of the founding fathers of traditional jazz, and waxed lyrical about his love of ‘swing music’.
After the quartet’s break-up in 1967, Brubeck appeared in a band with Gerry Mulligan and later formed a group with three of his own sons: Darius, Chris and Danny. He continued to tour the world in later years, playing concerts across Europe.
Brubeck performed for Pope John Paul II and for eight U.S. presidents, including Ronald Reagan, whose 1988 summit with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in Moscow included a concert by the jazz maestro.
Brubeck received the National Medal of the Arts, presented at the White House, and he won a Grammy in 1996 for lifetime achievement. The Brubeck Institute, whose honorary chairman is the actor Eastwood, was created by the University of the Pacific to support jazz students and promote Brubeck’s music.
“Once when asked how I would like to be remembered, I answered, ‘As someone who opened doors,’” Brubeck said.