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Dave Brubeck

As one of the most identifiable and commercially successful members of the West Coast jazz scene, Dave Brubeck provided cheeky titles to his mathematically complicated music and became a celebrated composer and performer. Born in California’s Bay Area in 1920, Brubeck took piano lessons from his mother. He went to college with the intention of working on his father’s cattle ranch, but was encouraged to enter a music conservatory. He entered the US Army in 1942 and was saved from combat service after a performance led to the formation of his own—sanctioned—band, the racially integrated Wolfpack. Following military service, he studied under Darius Milhaud at Mills College in Oakland, after which he formed an octet and was recorded by Coronet Records in 1949. The tapes were sold to the owners of what would become Fantasy Records and, through 1960, Brubeck had a series of successful albums with the label. His most famous group, the Dave Brubeck Quartet, was formed in 1951, had a residency at the Black Hawk in San Francisco, and toured college campuses. The band left Fantasy for Columbia in 1954 and embarked on a tour sponsored by the State Department in 1958. Pieces on Brubeck’s seminal 1959 Time Out borrowed time signatures and song structures that were overheard on the tour. Through 1966’s Time In, Brubeck’s work centered on the idea of playing with time and melody in the execution of his jazz sound. Simultaneously, the “Jazz Impressions” series, beginning with 1956’s Jazz Impressions of the U.S.A., saw the group take folk music from various sources and run it through their unique jazz wringer. The “classic” Quartet’s last release was the live The Last Time We Saw Paris in 1967, after which the group frequently changed members. In 1971, Columbia decided to focus on rock music, which led to Brubeck leaving and signing with Atlantic. Through the 2000s he continued performing and recording, primarily for Concord and Telarc. Before his death in 2012, Brubeck was awarded myriad accolades and honors from the government and various music organizations. Following his death, his contribution to bridging the worlds of jazz and pop music was immediately identified as one of the major innovations of his fifty-year career.