RIP Dave Brubeck: "Take Five" Jazz Great Dies at 91
Dave Brubeck, the professorial jazz pianist and composer whose No. 2 album Time Out was a standard of the Mad Men era, has died at age 91, the Associated Press reported Wednesday morning. Brubeck's manager, Russell Gloyd, told the AP that Brubeck died of heart failure on his way to a cardiologist appointment near his home near Hartford, Conn. He would have been 92 on Thursday.
Brubeck was born on Dec. 6, 1920 in Concord, California, the son of a cattle rancher and mother who taught piano lessons. In college, where he intended to study veteranary science, the head of the zoology department told him, "Brubeck, your mind's across the lawn in the conservatory." His inability to read music caused a minor scandal at the school, now known as the University of the Pacific.
In WWII, Brubeck served in Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army, and escaped the Battle of the Bulge by volunteering to play at a Red Cross-organized show. The regular jazz group group he formed shortly thereafter, known as the "Wolfpack," was one of the first examples of racial integration in the U.S. military.
When he left the service, Brubeck studied at Oakland's Mills College with jazz-loving French composer Darius Milhaud. His albums from the 1950s, such as Jazz Goes to College, were enough to land him on the cover of Time in 1954, the second jazz musician to be so honored after Louis Armstrong. (Brubeck said he would have rather seen Duke Ellington on the cover.) He also worked in A&R for Bay Area label Fantasy Records, which later released Creedence Clearwater Revival's albums, and helped discover artists such as Chet Baker.
Named for its unconventional time signatures, Time Out featured "Take Five" (written in 5/4 time, with a distinctive alto-sax riff played by Paul Desmond), which reached No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Adult Contemporary Top 10 in 1961. Its success led Brubeck's quartet to release several other albums that made use of irregular time, including 1966's Time In. "Take Five" became his best-known tune, although other Brubeck compositons such as "InYour Own Sweet Way" and "For All We Know" also became popular.
In 1959, the same year Time Out was released, Brubeck's quartet -- which at the time was the most successful jazz group in the U.S. -- performed with the New York Philharmonic, and he would glide easily between jazz and classical for the rest of his career. In the '80s, Brubeck began composing sacred music following his conversion to Catholicism, the subject of his final album, 2010's Sacred Choral Works. He was given a Kennedy Center award in 2009.
In December 2006, Brubeck, then 85, performed at Houston's Temple Beth Yeshurun with the Houston Chamber Choir.