When the incomparable jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck died at age 92 a few days ago, I was stunned. Somehow I had hoped that he would be making his beautiful, creative, experimental music forever.
I remember hearing the Dave Brubeck Quartet play "Take Five," an experimental piece written in unusual 5/4 time by Brubeck's alto sax man Paul Desmond, when it first came out in an album called "Time Out" in 1959. I played the record over and over again in my college dorm room, keeping time with the intricate rhythms and listening to every note in the imaginatively composed lines. Here it is in video, "Take Five."
The famous "Time Out" album that I loved so much went platinum fairly quickly, and was the first jazz album to sell more than a million copies. The other members of Brubeck's classic "Take Five" quartet were drummer Joe Morello, who had been working with pianist Marian McPartland, and double bassist Eugene Wright, an African-American.
I also admired Brubeck because -- along with singers such as Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett -- he stood up for integration. During the late 1950s and early 1960s, Brubeck actually canceled several concerts because certain club owners continued to resist the idea of an integrated band of black and white musicians playing on their stages. Brubeck also canceled a television appearance when he found out that the producers intended to keep black bassist Eugene Wright off-camera.
Dave Brubeck continued to play concerts into his early 90s; in 2009, he was named a Kennedy Center Honoree for excellence in the performing arts, and in 2010, Clint Eastwood released a documentary for Turner Classic Movies, Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way. Brubeck was married for 70 years to his wife Iola, who survives him. Five of their six children are musicians.
The music journalist Ivan Hewett characterized Brubeck has having "endless curiosity combined with stubbornness." What a musical legacy he has left us!
Here is another song composed by Dave Brubeck, a tribute to Duke Ellington called "The Duke."