Dave Brubeck, Who Helped Put Jazz Back in Vogue, Dies at 91
By BEN RATLIFF, The New York Times
Published: December 5, 2012
When he was 14, a laundryman who led a dance band encouraged him to perform in public, at Lions Club gatherings and Western-swing dances; he was paid $8 for playing from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., with a one-hour break. But until he went to college he was an aspiring rancher, not an aspiring musician.
At the College of the Pacific, near Stockton, he first studied to be a veterinarian but switched to music after a year. It was there that he learned about 20th-century culture and read about Freud, Marx and serial music; it was also there that he met Iola Whitlock, a fellow student, who became his wife in 1942.
In 1958, as part of a State Department program that brought jazz as an offer of good will during the cold war, his quartet traveled in the Middle East and India, and Mr. Brubeck became intrigued by musical languages that didn’t stick to 4/4 time – what he called “march-style jazz,” the meter that had been the music’s bedrock. The result was the album “Time Out,” recorded in 1959. With the hits “Take Five” (composed by Mr. Desmond in 5/4 meter and prominently featuring the quartet’s gifted drummer, Joe Morello) and “Blue Rondo à la Turk” (composed by Mr. Brubeck in 9/8), the album propelled Mr. Brubeck onto the pop charts.
When Mr. Brubeck’s quartet broke up in 1967, after 17 years, he spent more time with his family and followed new paths. In 1969 he composed “Elemental” (subtitled “Concerto for Anyone Who Can Afford an Orchestra”), a concerto grosso for 45-piece ensemble. He later wrote an oratorio and four cantatas, a mass, two ballets and works for jazz combo with orchestra. Most of his commissioned pieces from the late ’60s on were classical works, many had religious or social themes, and many were collaborations with his wife.
As a composer, Mr. Brubeck used jazz to address religious themes and to bridge social and political divides. His cantata “The Gates of Justice,” from 1969, dealt with blacks and Jews in America; another cantata, “Truth Is Fallen” (1972), lamented the killing of student protesters at Kent State University in 1970, with a score including orchestra, electric guitars and police sirens.
American jazz pianist and composer who annoyed the purists by finding global fame
John Fordham, The Guardian
Wednesday 5 December 2012 13.49 EST
Unlike Goodman and his college audience triumphs of the 1930s, Brubeck discovered his jazz in the postwar world – in a very different climate, which initiated the unusual chemistry of his music by a very different route. Jazz, pop and dancing were synonymous in the 30s. But Brubeck emerged a decade later, after the more cerebral and exploratory modernist idiom of bebop had profoundly influenced the music.
But this success had not come without reservations in the jazz world. Brubeck was on the wrong side of the purists almost as soon as his discs started to become hits – for what were seen by some as three betrayals. First, and maybe worst, he made money, which was a form of notoriety usually regarded as a sell-out by hardline hipsters. Second, his conspicuously complex tempos paraded cleverness and a fondness for European classical devices at a time when black American jazz was dumping much of its formal baggage, and fiery, impassioned and unpredictable improvisers such as Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane were on the rise. Third, he was portrayed by the cognoscenti as wasting the talents of a truly great improviser in Desmond, his lyrical and delicate alto saxophonist.
All his life, Brubeck continued to regard himself as “a composer who plays the piano”. Though much was made of his piano-playing by his early fans, Brubeck’s solos relied heavily on riff-like block chords and rather relentless dynamics. They became more varied and unpredictable in the later stages of his career and remained so into his 80s. But Brubeck’s real achievement was to blend European compositional ideas, very demanding rhythmic structures, jazz song-forms and improvisation in expressive and accessible ways. His son Chris was to tell the Guardian, “when I hear Chorale, it reminds me of the very best Aaron Copland, something like Appalachian Spring. There’s a sort of American honesty to it.”
Dave Brubeck, worldwide ambassador of jazz, dies at 91
By Matt Schudel, Washington Post
Wednesday, December 5, 12:23 PM
His father was a champion rodeo roper, and his mother was a conservatory-trained pianist who had studied in London with Dame Myra Hess, a concert star. She gave her three sons a surprisingly advanced musical education, and Mr. Brubeck’s two older brothers, Henry and Howard, became music teachers and composers.
Because of early eyesight problems, Mr. Brubeck always had difficulty reading musical notation. He compensated by learning to improvise and to play by ear, which served him well in jazz.
During World War II, Mr. Brubeck was pulled from the ranks of an infantry unit by an Army colonel, who asked him to start a jazz band to entertain troops on the front lines. The group he formed was perhaps the only integrated musical unit in the military during the war.
After the war, Mr. Brubeck did graduate work at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., with Milhaud and wrote and performed avant-garde jazz. Based in San Francisco early in his career, he worked for low pay and scrounged for dented cans of food that he could buy at a discount.
“We lived in a tin, corrugated one-room shack with no windows,” he told The Post in 2008. “We were so broke, God almighty.”
“You could hardly find a less likely formula for popularity,” Gioia, the author of “West Coast Jazz,” wrote in an e-mail. “Brubeck, by all definitions, was a fringe within a fringe. Despite all this, he managed to achieve a rare degree of fame and popularity. How did he pull this off? Mostly through the sheer brilliance and audacity of his musical vision.”
But then, they’re always sad.