Dave Brubeck dies aged 91

Pianist, composer and proponent of progressive jazz Dave Brubeck, "an artist, a pioneer", has died at the age of 91 in Connecticut

Dave BrubeckDave Brubeck, jazz pianist and composer of more than 250 pieces of music, has died at the age of 91, a day before his 92nd birthday.

He suffered heart failure in hospital on Wednesday morning, 5 December, while on his way to a cardiology appointment with his son, Darius. A birthday party planned in his honour to be held on Thursday 6 December will be restyled as a tribute to the musician's prolific and decade-spanning career.

Born in 1920 in California and tutored in piano by his mother, Brubeck had originally planned to follow in his father's footsteps working on the family cattle ranch, but decided to study music instead. From the 1940s up to the last decade Brubeck studied, composed and performed jazz, commenting in 1995 that his goal was to play "polytonally and polyrhythmically", and that "it's still a challenge to discover what can be done with just those two elements."

He formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, featuring Paul Desmond on saxophone. The quartet helped define the cool, progressive jazz sound of the 1950s and 60s. Selling millions of albums, most notably the 1959 record Time Out, it played internationally from the 50s until Desmond's death in 1977. The best known track from Time Out, Take Five, was composed by Desmond and became one of the biggest selling jazz singles of all time.

Brubeck received multiple awards throughout his career, from a Grammy for lifetime achievement to being designated a "living legend" by US Congress. He was also the second jazz musician to feature on the cover of Time magazine in 1954 (the first being Louis Armstrong in 1949).

He composed over 250 jazz pieces over his lifetime as well as oratorios, orchestral works, music for ballet, and jazz opera. His last album release, Indian Summer, was in 2007 at the age of 87. He is survived by his wife, Iola, five children, and grandchildren.

Brubeck was immortalised in popular culture in Donald Fagen's song New Frontier. Its lyric, containing the words "I hear you're mad about Brubeck . . . he's an artist, a pioneer" resonate with a generation that grew up in the late 50s atmosphere of modernist optimism.

Dave Brubeck last featured on the cover of Jazz Journal in July 2010, at the start of a four-part survey of his classic quartet by Richard Palmer. Copies of the four relevant issues - July, August, September and October 2010 - are still available as backnumbers. A sample is here.

A full appreciation by Dr Palmer will appear in the February issue of Jazz Journal.

Sally Evans-Darby

Photo: Dave Brubeck on tour in Latin America, from the JJ archive

post a comment