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Dave Brubeck (Piano, Composer)

Born: December 6, 1920 - Concord, California, USA
Died: December 5, 2012 - Norwalk, Connecticut, USA

The Jazz pianist, composer, and bandleader, Dave [David Warren] Brubeck, was born into a musical family in Concord, California - his two older brothers were also professional musicians; he began piano lessons with his mother at age 4. He was 12 when his father moved the family to a cattle ranch in the foothills of the Sierras. Dave’s life changed dramatically. Piano lessons ended and cowboy life began. He worked with his father on the 45,000 acre cattle ranch. When he was 14, he started playing in local dance bands on weekends. When he enrolled at the College of the Pacific, in Stockton, California, his intention was to study veterinary medicine and return to the ranch. While working his way through school as a pianist in local nightclubs, the lure of jazz became irresistible and he changed his major to music. In 1941-1942, while a music major at the College of the Pacific, he led a 12-piece band. Graduating in 1942, he enlisted in the Army, and shortly thereafter married Iola Whitlock, a fellow student at Pacific. While serving in Patton’s Army in Europe during World War II, he led a racially integrated band (1944).

After his discharge from military service in 1946, Dave Brubeck enrolled at Mills College in Oakland, California to study composition with French composer, Darius Milhaud. Milhaud encouraged him to pursue a career in jazz and to incorporate jazz elements into his compositions. This cross-genre experimentation with like-minded Milhaud students led to the formation in 1947 of the experimental Jazz Workshop Ensemble, which recorded in 1949 as the Dave Brubeck Octet. Also in 1949, with Cal Tjader and Norman Bates (whose place was later taken by Ron Crotty), fellow Octet members, he organized the Dave Brubeck Trio, and cut their first award-winning Dave Brubeck Trio recordings. After suffering a near fatal diving accident in 1951, Dave formed his first Dave Brubeck Quartet with alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, who was also a member of the Octet. The "classic" Brubeck Quartet was created when Brubeck and Desmond were joined by Joe Morello (1956) and Gene Wright (1958); this group remained together until 1967, when Brubeck disbanded it to concentrate on composing. The legendary Brubeck-Desmond collaboration lasted seventeen years and beyond.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s recordings and concert appearances on college campuses in the 1950’s and early 1960’s introduced jazz to thousands of young people. The album Jazz at Oberlin, recorded in concert at that college in 1953, contains some of Brubeck's and especially Desmond's finest improvisations. The quartet’s audiences were not limited to students, however. The group played in jazz clubs in every major city and toured in package shows with such artists as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzerald, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Stan Getz. The Dave Brubeck Quartet repeatedly won top honors in trade magazines and critic’s and reader’s polls. In 1954 Dave Brubeck’s portrait appeared on the cover of Time Magazine with a story about the jazz renaissance and Brubeck’s phenomenal ascendancy. The same year Brubeck left Fantasy for Columbia Records.

In 1958 the Quartet made their first of many international tours. The U.S. State Department sponsored the Quartet’s performances in Poland, India, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Iraq. Exposure to many different cultures was reflected in the group’s repertoire that sometimes incorporated exotic elements.
During the 1950’s and 1960’s Brubeck began experimenting with time signatures unusual in jazz, such as 5/4, 9/8, and 11/4. Only Max Roach had preceded Brubeck in the successful integration of irregular meters and jazz forms. The Dave Brubeck Quartet’s 1959 recording “Time Out” experimented in time signatures beyond the usual jazz 4/4. To everyone’s surprise this album became the first jazz album to sell over a million copies The alum included Desmond's Take Five (in 5/4 meter) and Brubeck’s Blue Rondo a la Turk (in 9/8, grouped 2+2+2+3). Blue Rondo a la Turk and Take Five (now in the Grammy Hall of Fame) began to appear on jukeboxes throughout the world.

Early in his career Dave Brubeck wrote primarily for this Quartet, and some of those pieces, such as In Your Own Sweet Way and The Duke became part of standard jazz repertoire. Brubeck, who considers himself in essence" a composer who plays the piano," has written and, in some instances, recorded several large-scale compositions since the 1960’s, including two ballets, a musical. an oratorio, four cantatas, a mass, and works for jazz group and orchestra, as well as many pieces for solo piano. His first orchestral composition, Elementals, written for an improvising jazz combo and symphony orchestra was premiered and recorded in 1962. Choreographed by Lar Lubovitch, Elemental Brubeck is currently in the repertoire of the San Francisco Ballet and several other dance companies.

Throughout his career Dave Brubeck experimented with interweaving jazz and classical music. In 1959 his Quartet premiered and recorded his brother Howard’s Dialogues for Jazz Combo and Orchestra with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, Leonard Bernstein conducting. In 1960 he composed Points on Jazz for the American Ballet Theatre, and in later decades composed for and toured with the Murray Louis Dance Co. His musical theater piece The Real Ambassadors starring Louis Armstrong and Carmen McRae was recorded and performed to great acclaim at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival.

The “classic” Dave Brubeck Quartet (Paul Desmond, alto sax from 1951; Eugene Wright, bass from 1958; Joe Morello, drums from 1956) was dissolved December 1967. Baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan joined a newly formed Dave Brubeck Trio (with Jack Six, bass and Alan Dawson, drums) the following year. This group recorded and toured the world together for seven years. In the 1970’s he organized several new quartets which at various times included one or more of his sons: the keyboard player (David) Darius Brubeck (b San Francisco, June 14, 1947); the trombonist and electric bass guitarist Chris Brubeck (b Los Angeles, March 19, 1952); and the drummer and percussionist Danny (Daniel) Brubeck (b Oakland, California, May 4, 1955). They were billed as “Two “Generations of Brubeck” frequently with Gerry Mulligan or Paul Desmond as guest artists. Dave Brubeck has appeared at the Newport (1958, 1972, 1981), Monterey (1962, 1980), Concord (1982), and Kool jazz festivals, and performed at the White House (1964, 1981). During the 1950’s and 1960’s he was a frequent winner of popularity polls in Down Beat, Metronome, and other magazines. In 1976 Brubeck performed and recorded again with Desmond, Morello, and Wright to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the formation of his first quartet.

In the 1980’s Dave Brubeck led a quartet that featured clarinetist Bill Smith, a former Octet member, with his son Chris Brubeck on electric bass and Randy Jones on drums. This group toured the Soviet Union in 1987 and along with former bassist, Eugene Wright, accompanied President Reagan to Moscow to perform at the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in 1988. Since the Dave Brubeck Quartet’s first appearance at a State Dinner for King Hussein of Jordan during the Johnson administration, Brubeck has performed at The White House on several occasions and for many different Presidents.

Shortly after the dissolution of the “classic” Quartet, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, with Erich Kunzel conducting, premiered Brubeck’s oratorio, The Light in the Wilderness (February 1968). The following year Brubeck’s second major work The Gates of Justice, a cantata based on the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Old Testament, was also premiered by Kunzel in Cincinnati. It has since been re-recorded by the Choral Arts Society, Cantor Abraham Mizrahi, tenor and Kevin Deas, bass-baritone, for the Milken Archive of American Jewish Music, Russell Gloyd conducting.

Dave Brubeck performed as composer-performer with most of the major orchestras in the USA and with prestigious choral groups and orchestras in Europe and America. Dave cites as some of the highlights of his career the premiere of his composition Upon This Rock for Pope John Paul II’s visit to San Francisco and the performances of his mass To Hope! A Celebration in St. Stephan’s Cathedral in Vienna and in Moscow with the Russian National Orchestra and Orloff choir. Brubeck’s compositions include a popular Christmas choral pageant La Fiesta de la Posada, oratorios and cantatas, ballet suites, a string quartet, chamber ensembles, pieces for solo and duo-piano, violin solos and orchestral works. His mass To Hope! A Celebration has been performed throughout the English speaking world, Germany, Russia and Austria and was recorded in the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. In 2002 the London Symphony Orchestra and London Voices recorded in “Classical Brubeck” his Easter oratorio Beloved Son, Pange Lingua Variations, The Voice of the Holy Spirit and a composition for string orchestra, Regret, all under the baton of Russell Gloyd, who since 1976 has been associated with Brubeck as conductor, producer and manager. A mini-opera based on Steinbeck’s Cannery Row was presented at the Monterey Jazz Festival in 2006.

While increasingly active as a composer, Dave Brubeck remained a leading figure in jazz, recording for Telarc, appearing in festivals and touring internationally in concert halls with the most recent version of the Dave Brubeck Quartet - Bobby Militello, sax and flute, Randy Jones, drums, Michael Moore, bass. As in the Dave Brubeck Quartet decades ago, each is a master musician and their concert repertoire ranges from “hits” from the old Quartet “book” to cutting edge new material.

Throughout his long career Dave Brubeck received national and international honors, including: Connecticut Arts Award (1987); National Medal of Arts from President Clinton, National Endowment for the Arts (1994); DownBeat Hall of Fame (1994); Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (1996); Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian Medal, BBC Jazz Lifetime Achievement Award (2007); Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy (2008); Inducted into California Hall of Fame (2008); Kennedy Centre Honour (2009); and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. In 2000 the National Endowment for the Arts declared Dave Brubeck a Jazz Master. He was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2003. In 2007 he received a Living Legacy Jazz Award from Kennedy Center and the Arison Award from the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts. His international honors include Austria’s highest award for the Arts, a citation from the French government, and the Bocconi Medal from Italy. The London Symphony Orchestra, acknowledging their long association, presented him with their prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. He held numerous honorary doctorates from American, Canadian, English and German universities, including an honorary degree in Sacred Theology from Fribourg University, Switzerland (2004). Recently, Brubeck received the Distinguished Arts Award from the Ford Honors program of the University of Michigan and in 2006 received from Notre Dame their highest honor, the Laetare Medal. He is a Duke Ellington Fellow at Yale University, and was presented with the Sanford Medal by the Yale School of Music. Miore recently he received George Washington University Honorary Degree (2010); Honorary Fellow of Westminster Choir College, Princeton, New Jersey (2011). The most recent honor from his alma mater, the University of the Pacific, is the President’s Medal of Achievement presented by Donald V. De Rosa. Dave Brubeck serves as chairman of The Brubeck Institute that the University of the Pacific established in his honor.

Selected Discography: Jazz at Oberlin (Fantasy); Time Out (Columbia); The Real Ambassadors (Columbia); Time Signatures (Sony Music); Classical Brubeck (Telarc); London Flat, London Sharp (Telarc); Indian Summer (Telarc). Dave Brubeck’s most recent recording is a highly praised solo piano album “Indian Summer” that was named 2007 Album of the Year by Douglas Lytle, of

Dave Brubeck, designated a “Living Legend” by the Library of Congress, continued to be one of the most active and popular musicians in both the jazz and classical worlds until his death. With a career that spans over six decades, his experiments in odd time signatures, improvised counterpoint, polyrhythm and polytonality remain hallmarks of innovation. Despite his age, Brubeck still performed, including concerts as late as 2011. A 2010 performance at the Blue Note in New York City came just a month after he received a pacemaker. He died of heart failure on December 5, 2012 at Norwalk Hospital, in Norwalk, Connecticut. "For as long as I've been playing jazz, people have been trying to pigeonhole me," he once told the Chicago Tribune. "Frankly, labels bore me." Brubeck is survived by his wife, Iola; four sons and a daughter.

More Photos

Source: The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz, edited by Barry Kernfeld (McMillan, 1988; Article Author: Richard Wand); Wikipedia Website (July 2011); Dave Brubeck Website; Various obituaries (December 2012)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (August 2011, December 2012)

Dave Brubeck: Short Biography | Bach-inspired Piano Works: Works | Recordings

Links to other Sites

Dave Brubeck (Official Website)
The Brubeck Institute
Dave Brubeck - Biography, CDs and concert review (Cosmopolis)

Dave Bruneck (Wikipedia)
Dave Bruneck Discography Project
Dave Bruneck – Biography (AMG)


D. Brubeck: "Jazz Evolvement as Art Form:' DB, xvii (1950), No. l, p.12; No.2, p.13
"Brubeck, Dave (W.)," CBY 1956
R. Gleason: "Dave Brubeck Remembers: 'They Said I was too Far out'," DB, xxiv/16 (1957), 17
I. Brubeck and D. Brubeck: "Jazz Perspective:' Jam Session: an Anthology of Jazz, ed. R. Gleason (New York and London, 1958)
H. Brubeck: Dave Brubeck (New York, 1961) [BMI pubn; incl. discography]
L. Tomkins: "It's not Easy to Take Criticism - or Praise," Crescendo, i/6 (1963), 6 [interview]
L. Feather: "Dave Brubeck, Composer:' DB, xxxiii/13 (1966), 18
D. Locke: "Early Dave:' JM, xii/6 (1966), 2
Biography of DaveBrubeck (New York, 1972)
D. Morgenstern: "Two Generations of Brubecks: a Talk with Dave, Darius, and Chris:' DB, xxxix/lO (1972), 12
L. Tomkins: "Dave Brubeck Today," CI, xi/5 (1972), 20 [interview]
A. J. Smith: "The Dave Brubeck Quartet: a Quarter of a Century Young:' DB, xliii/6 (1976), 18 [interview]
C. J. Stuessy: The Confluence of Jazz and ClassicalMusic {rom 1950 to 1970 (diss., Eastman School, 1978), 296-320, 396ff
L. Tomkins: "The Diversified World of Dave Brubeck," CI, xviii/3 (1979), 20 [interview]
"Dave Brubeck:' SJ, xxxiv/2 (1980), 164 [discography]
I. Storb: "Dave Brubeck, Komponist und Pianist," Jf, xiii (1981), 9-43 [incl. list of works]
L. Lyons: The Great Jazz Pianists: Speaking of their Lives and Music (New York, 1983), 102

Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
Explanation | Acronyms | Missing Biographies | The Sad Corner


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