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Dave Brubeck: A Biography

Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck

Born on 6 December 1920 in Concord, California, jazz legend Dave Brubeck is equally distinguished as composer and pianist. Studies at the College of the Pacific and with Milhaud at Mills College led to the founding, with fellow students, of the experimental Jazz Workshop Ensemble which recorded in 1949 as the Dave Brubeck Octet. Later, in 1958, the combination of Brubeck with drummer Joe Morello, double bassist Eugene Wright, and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond quickly achieved an overwhelming popular success as the Dave Brubeck Quartet.


With the success of his Dave Brubeck Quartet in the 50's and 60's and the incredible public response to their style of playing, pianist Dave Brubeck was at once embraced by the public but spurned by jazz critics. His importance in jazz history is unmistakable: the Quartet, headlined by Brubeck and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, helped to reawaken public interest in jazz after World War II, was an integral part of the new but erroneously named "West Coast Cool Jazz" style which was to characterize American jazz in the 50's and 60's, and their tour de force, the innovative Time Out, released in 1959, spawned not only the first million-selling jazz record in modern jazz history with the singles "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" , but also a slew of albums by other artists also experimenting in nontraditional time signatures. In 1954, just three years after the founding of the Quartet with himself, Desmond, drummer Joe Dodge, and bassist Bob Bates, Brubeck became the first jazz musician to be featured on the cover of Time magazine, which heralded Brubeck as the leader of "the birth of a new kind of jazz age in the U.S.". Between the years of 1959 and 1965, the Quartet won Down Beat magazine's reader's poll five times; it garnered the top spot in the Billboard reader's poll in '65 and '66; for twelve consecutive years, '57 through '68, Brubeck and company took the top spot in the Playboy reader's poll. In the Quartet's tenth year, after being bolstered by the replacement of Dodge with Joe Morello and Bates with Eugene Wright, the New Yorker could rightfully proclaim that the Quartet was "the world's best-paid, most widely travelled, most highly publicized, and most popular small group now playing improvised syncopated music." Cloyed perhaps by the overwhelming popular acclaim, Brubeck left the Quartet in 1967 to develop his composing skills, already apparent in his jazz compositions, in the realms of ballets, operas, and scores.

As composer, Brubeck has written and, in some cases, recorded several large-scale works including two ballets, a musical, an oratorio, four cantatas, a mass, works for jazz combo and orchestra, and many solo piano pieces. In the last 20 years, he has organized several new quartets and continued to appear at the Newport, Monterey, Concord, and Kool Jazz Festivals. Brubeck performed at the White House in 1964 and 1981 and at the 1988 Moscow summit honoring the Gorbachevs. He is the recipient of four honorary degrees, the BMI Jazz Pioneer Award, and the 1988 American Eagle Award presented by the National Music Council.
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