Dave Brubeck—a True Jazz Artist

To say that Dave Brubeck is a legendary jazz artist is an understatement. The man pioneered what became known as cool jazz and west coast jazz. Much more than a pianist, this jazz artist is also a composer and band leader, writing such jazz standards as “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “The Duke.”

When it comes to style, no one personifies that word better than Brubeck. From refined to bombastic, this jazz artist and his style is known for its unusual, to say the least, time signatures, and overlaying of contrasting rhythms, meters and tonalities.

Brubeck’s best remembered piece, “Take Five”, was written by alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, also his long-time musical partner. This piece, written in 5/4 time, has endured to become a jazz classic. This jazz artist extended his experimentation with time signatures, recording “Pick Up Sticks” in 6/4 time and "Unsquare Dance" in 7/4.

Aside from his distinctive style, Brubeck, as a jazz artist, is a respected composer of orchestral and sacred music, composing soundtracks for TV such as “Mr. Broadway” and the widely popular animated miniseries “This Is American, Charlie Brown.”

Brubeck’s birthplace is Concord, California. His dad raised cattle while his mother taught piano to supplement the family income. Having studied piano in England, Mrs. Brubeck’s intention was to become a concert pianist, not a jazz artist as her famous son became.

At the outset, Brubeck was not aiming to become a jazz artist, although his two older brothers, Howard and Henry, were working toward just that. During the early lessons with his mom, he could not read sheet music, blaming this deficiency on poor eyesight. His ability to fake his way though kept this deficiency from being grossly noticed.

Having decided to work for his father on the family ranch, Brubeck enrolled at the College of the Pacific to study veterinary medicine. He later switched schools at the urging of Dr. Arnold, the head of the zoology department. Dr. Arnold’s comments to Brubeck were swift and to the point. “Brubeck,” he said, “your mind’s not here. It’s across the lawn in the conservatory. Please go there. Stop wasting my time and yours.”

It was later on that Brubeck almost got kicked out of the conservatory when his professors became aware that he couldn’t read music. However, several of his teachers came forward, declaring that his ability with counterpoint and harmony far outweighed any reason for expelling the jazz artist. The powers to be were still concerned. This sort of deficiency could create an ugly scandal. But, the powers relented and said that Brubeck could graduate so long as he committed to never teaching piano.

Upon graduation in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the armed services. He was soon to join Patton’s Third Army in Europe. Just before Patton’s famous stand at the Battle of the Bulge, the jazz artist volunteered to play piano at a Red Cross show. He was a huge hit and subsequently ordered to form a band, which became known as “The Wolfpack.”

It was during his military service, in 1944, that Brubeck met Paul Desmond, another fellow jazz artist.

After doing nearly a four year stint in the army, Brubeck returned to college—this time entering Mills College where he studied under Darius Milhaud. Milhaud encouraged the young pianist to concentrate on fugue and orchestration. Stay away from classical piano, he warned the jazz artist.

Following the completion of his college work, Brubeck helped to form Berkeley California’s Fantasy records. The jazz artist played with an octet and a trio, performing very experimental music. His efforts resulted in few recordings and even fewer paying gigs. It was during this time that Paul Desmond, at his prodding, joined with Brubeck on the bandstand.

It was in 1951 that Brubeck formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet, with Desmond on saxophone. Sam Francisco’s Black hawk nightclub was their home for a period of time and the jazz artist and his group began gaining great popularity touring college campuses. The albums, Jazz at Oberlin, appeared in 1953, Jazz at College of the Pacific also in 1953, and Brubeck's debut on Columbia Records, Jazz Goes to College in 1954.

Next up in 1954 was Brubeck’s picture and story on the cover of Time magazine, the second jazz artist to be so honored—the first being Louis Armstrong in 1949.

It was in 1959 that the jazz artist and his quartet recorded his signature album, Time Out. With all original compositions, almost none of which were in common time, the album quickly went platinum.

During this same time period, Brubeck and his wife, Lola, developed a jazz musical featuring such notables as Louis Armstrong and Carmen McRae. The musical was performed at the 1962 Monterey Jazz Festival.

It is generally considered the high point of this jazz artist and his group’s career is the 1963 live album At Carnegie Hall. Critic Richard Palmer said that it’s "arguably Dave Brubeck's greatest concert".

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