Take five reasons why Dave Brubeck was a jazz superstar

Dec 6, 2012

The American jazz great who got his face on the cover of Time has died at the age of 91

DAVE BRUBECK, the American pianist who has died from heart failure at the age of 91, was that rare thing, "a jazz musician whose name and face were easily recognised by those who don't know much about jazz," says jazz critic Gene Seymour in an obituary written for CNN. His best-known tune, Take Five, got to No. 25 on the US pop charts and his quartet's music helped define the swinging, smoky rhythms of club jazz in the 1950s and 1960s. Here are five ways Brubeck put an indelible stamp on music.

1. He made complex music cool: 'Take Five' is written in a 5/4 time signature – that's how it got its name. Brubeck's big swinging hit introduced pop fans to some of the complexity of jazz without making them rush for the exits. "He [Brubeck] intertwined jazz swing with time-signatures that looked like algebra, and mingled standard song-forms with rondos and fugues," writes John Fordham in The Guardian.

2. He was the first jazz musician to get the cover of Time magazine: Just three years after forming The Dave Brubeck Quartet, Brubeck's face – framed by his "professorial horn-rimmed glasses" – appeared on the cover of Time. It was recognition of the massive audience he had cultivated among "students and young professionals", says The Daily Telegraph, thanks to an aura suggesting that "here was a new, superior, more intellectual form of jazz".

3. As a vet he made a great jazz musician:  Brubeck's father was a cattle rancher in California and Brubeck Jnr intended to join the family business. He enrolled at a college in Stockton, California, to study veterinary science, but spent most of his time playing music. The exasperated head of zoology told him to transfer to the nearby Conservatory with the words: "Stop wasting my time and yours".

4. He wasn't just a jazz musician: Brubeck composed about 250 jazz pieces and songs. He also wrote music for ballet, orchestral works, oratorios and other sacred music. His Jazz opera Cannery Row Suite premiered in 2006 and he co-wrote an orchestral work about the photographer Ansel Adams in 2009. If you want to check out his acting chops you can see him playing himself in the 1961 movie All Night Long alongside Richard Attenborough and Patrick McGoohan.

5. He never stopped exploring music: Brubeck disbanded his quartet in 1967 to focus on solo projects, but never stopped playing and composing. "When you start out with goals - mine were to play polytonally and polyrhythmically - you never exhaust that," he said in a 1995 interview reported by the BBC. "I started doing that in the 1940s. It's still a challenge to discover what can be done with just those two elements."

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