Legendary jazz pianist Dave Brubeck died today (Dec. 5) of heart failure in Norwalk, Connecticut, one day short of his 92nd birthday.
Brubeck, who once said he found jazz “much too tame,” was known for pioneering the use of unusual time signatures and employing other composition techniques that were considered experimental at the time.
Born near San Francisco in 1920, Brubeck studied music at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Ca. During his service in World War II, he formed The Wolfpack, one of the U.S. Army’s first racially integrated bands. He attended graduate school at Mills College in Oakland, where he studied with the modernist composer Darius Milhaud. Brubeck’s early career was rooted in the San Francisco Bay Area. His group, The Dave Brubeck Quartet, was formed there in 1951; he was also a founder of Berkeley’s Fantasy Records.
The Quartet became known for performing on college campuses throughout the U.S. in the 1950s. In 1959, they released their seminal album, Time Out, which featured “Take Five” and other songs that would become jazz classics. It was the first jazz album to go platinum.
A champion of racial integration, Brubeck played black jazz clubs in the South, and toured with a racially mixed band when much of the U.S. was still segregated. He was known to cancel shows when club owners resisted a band that included both white and black members performing in their facilities.
In addition to jazz, Brubeck also composed several pieces of sacred music. He became a Kennedy Center Honoree in 2009.
Enjoy this recording of The Dave Brubeck Quartet performing “Take Five,” one of their best known songs.
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