Vale Dave Brubeck
Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, whose experiments in rhythm and style helped win millions of new jazz fans around the world, died overnight of heart failure at the age of 91.
Brubeck, who was a day away from his 92nd birthday, died in a Connecticut hospital on Wednesday, according to his manager Russell Gloyd.
Brubeck won a slew of awards over the course of a career that spanned more than six decades. He was still playing as recently as last year.
He played at the White House for presidents and visiting dignitaries, and was designated a Living Legend by the US Library of Congress.
Brubeck’s 1959 album Time Out became the first million-selling jazz record of the modern era, as songs Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk defied the indifference of critics to become classics in the genre.
A big party had been planned for Sunday to celebrate Brubeck’s 92nd birthday, Mr Gloyd said.
But on Wednesday he felt ill. His son called for an ambulance and Brubeck was taken to the emergency room.
“They came up later and said ‘we just can’t keep this heart going’,” Mr Gloyd said.
Brubeck’s success cemented his reputation as one of the great proponents in the history of jazz, after years of nudging the music into mainstream culture by relentlessly performing on university campuses.
His Dave Brubeck Quartet also toured the world on behalf of the US government, becoming so popular in Europe and Asia that it was said that when Washington needed to fix relations somewhere, they sent in Brubeck.
According to Brubeck’s website, highlights of his career include the premier of his composition Upon this Rock for then-pope John Paul II’s visit to San Francisco in 1987.
His accolades included receiving the National Medal of Arts from then-president Bill Clinton in 1994, a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
He held numerous honorary doctorates from universities in the United States, Canada, Britain and Germany.
Over the course of his career he also experimented with integrating jazz into classical forms.
In 1959 his quartet played and recorded with the New York Philharmonic under Leonard Bernstein, and a year later he composed Points on Jazz for the American Ballet Theatre.
Born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, California, a four-year-old Brubeck was improvising tunes from the classical pieces he was taught by his piano teacher mother.
But he dreamed of being a rancher like his father, and went to university to become a veterinarian, only to transfer to the music department when a teacher noticed he spent all class staring out the window at the conservatory.
Brubeck’s raw skill at the keyboard concealed the fact he had not yet learnt to read music, and he was allowed to graduate in 1942 only after promising never to become a music teacher.
After World War II, Brubeck studied with French classical composer Darius Milhaud, who told him jazz was the best music for expressing the spirit of the US.
He began his career in earnest in 1947, playing in San Francisco for the first time with Paul Desmond, whose delicate lyricism on alto sax would later help make the Brubeck quartet famous.
After nearly becoming paralysed in a 1951 swimming accident, Brubeck assembled his first quartet with Desmond and built up a new and young audience by relentlessly touring universities at the suggestion of Brubeck’s wife Iola.
Jazz Goes to College in 1954 sold more than 100,000 copies and led to Brubeck becoming the first jazz musician ever to appear on the cover of Time magazine.
Brubeck learned about the issue from his idol Duke Ellington, who showed up at his hotel room with the issue of Time, which called the quartet’s work “some of the strangest and loveliest music ever played since jazz was born”.
“It was the worst and the best moment possible, all mixed up, because I didn’t want to have my story come first,” Brubeck told a US television interviewer.
“He was so much more important than I was – he deserved to be first.”
The choice of a relatively unknown white musician over a black star like Ellington sparked the ire of some colleagues and critics, many of whom felt his offbeat music did not swing the way jazz should.
But it also made him a household name and paved the way for the success of Time Out, which used rhythms unusual to jazz that Brubeck had heard in his travels around the globe.
Fuelled by pioneering drummer Joe Morello, the album hit the top of both the jazz and popular music charts. The group sold millions of records before disbanding in 1967.