Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck passed away this morning at Norwalk Hospital in Norwalk, Conn., The Chicago Tribune reports. He would have turned 92 tomorrow, December 6. Brubeck’s manager/producer/conductor Russell Gloyd tells the Tribune that Brubeck died of heart failure while he was on his way to “a regular treatment with his cardiologist”.
Born on December 6, 1920, Brubeck began piano lessons with his mother while spending the early years of his childhood in Concord, Calif. As a teenager, he played in local dance bands. He studied music at Stockton, Calif.’s College of the Pacific and made money to support his education by performing in local nightclubs. While serving in Europe in the 40s during World War II, he lead a service band.
When he returned from the military in 1946, Brubeck trained under French composer Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland, Calif. Along with other students of Milhaud, he formed the Dave Brubeck Octet in the late 40s, paring down to a trio with Octet members Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty to record as the Dave Brubeck Trio in 1949. Two years later, the Dave Brubeck Quartet came to be, with the assistance of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Joe Morello and Eugene Wright replaced Tjader and Crotty in the late 50s, forming the Quartet’s “classic” lineup.
The Quartet toured and recorded throughout the 50s, becoming so popular that Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1954. In 1959, they released the album Time Out, which featured the well-known songs “Take Five” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk”. “Take Five” became the first jazz piece to sell a million copies.
In 1960, Brubeck wrote “Points on Jazz” for the American Ballet Theatre, later debuting his first orchestral composition, “Elementals”, in 1962. That same year, his musical theater piece “The Real Ambassadors” was recorded and performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival with the assistance of Louis Armstrong and Carmen McRae.
The original Quartet lineup broke up near the end of 1967, and Brubeck spent time organizing and performing with other trios and quartets in the decades to come (including “Two Generations of Brubeck”, which counted three of his sons, Darius, Chris, and Dan, as members). In 1987, Brubeck was part of a quartet that toured the Soviet Union; he also performed at the Reagan-Gorbachev Summit in Moscow in 1988.
Brubeck continued composing and performing in the decades that followed, accruing various awards including the Living Legacy Jazz Award from the Kennedy Center in 2007. In the same year, his most recent recorded work, the solo piano album Indian Summer, was released.
Check out a few highlights from Brubeck’s career below.
“Take Five” (Live in Germany, 1966):
“Blue Rondo a la Turk” (Television performance, 1962):
“Pick Up Sticks”: