Dave Brubeck Biography

David Warren Brubeck, 6 December 1920, Concord, California, USA. Initially taught piano by his mother, Brubeck showed an immediate flair for the instrument, and was performing with local professional jazz groups throughout northern California at the age of 15 while still at high school. Enrolling at the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California, as a veterinary major, he transferred to the music conservatory at the suggestion of his college advisor. His involvement in jazz continued by establishing a 12-piece band, but most of his time was spent in the study of theory and composition. After he graduated from Pacific, Brubeck decided to continue his formal classical training. His studying was interrupted by military service in World War II. Returning from Europe in 1946, he went to Mills College as a graduate student under the tutorship of Darius Milhaud, and at about this time he formed his first serious jazz group - the Jazz Workshop Ensemble, an eight-piece unit that recorded some sessions, the results of which were issued three years later on Fantasy Records as the Dave Brubeck Octet.

Brubeck began a more consistent professional involvement in the jazz scene in 1949, with the creation of his first trio, with Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty. It was with the addition of alto saxophonist Paul Desmond in 1951 that Brubeck’s group achieved major critical acclaim, even though the trio had won the Best Small Combo award in DownBeat. Replacing Tjader and Crotty with Gene Wright (in 1958) and Joe Morello (in 1956) towards the end of the 50s, Brubeck led this celebrated and prolific quartet as a unit until 1967, when he disbanded the group. Brubeck toured as the Dave Brubeck Trio with Gerry Mulligan, together with Alan Dawson (drums) and Jack Six (bass) for seven years to widespread critical acclaim. He began using a new group in 1972 involving his three sons, touring as the Darius Brubeck Ensemble and the Dave Brubeck Trio, with either Mulligan or Desmond as guest soloists, until 1976. From 1977-79 the New Brubeck Quartet comprised four Brubecks, Dave, Darius, Chris and Dan. Apart from a brief classic quartet reunion in 1976, most of his now rare concert appearances have since been in this setting, with the addition at various times of Randy Jones (drums), Jack Six, Bill Smith (clarinet) and Bobby Militello (alto saxophone).

Brubeck’s musical relationship with Desmond was central to his success. The group’s 1959 classic ‘Take Five’ was composed by Desmond, and it was the saxophonist’s extraordinary gift for melodic improvisation that gave the group much of its musical strength. Always seeing himself primarily as a composer rather than a pianist, Brubeck, in his own solos, tended to rely too much on his ability to work in complex time-signatures (often two at once). His work in the field of composition has produced over 300 pieces, including several jazz standards such as the magnificent ‘Blue Rondo A La Turk’, as well as ‘In Your Own Sweet Way’ and ‘The Duke’. Additionally, he has composed two ballets, a musical, a mass, works for television and film, an oratorio and two cantatas. However, Brubeck will always be primarily associated with his pivotal quartet recordings with Paul Desmond, and with Desmond’s ‘Take Five’, in particular (the first jazz instrumental to sell over one million copies).

Throughout the 60s, when jazz was able to cross over into other territories, it was primarily Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Brubeck that were quoted, cited and applauded. His band was a central attraction at almost all the major international jazz festivals, and during the 50s and 60s, he frequently won both DownBeat and Metronome polls. As early as 1954, Brubeck appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and 10 years later was invited to play at the White House (which he repeated on numerous occasions, including the 1988 Gorbachev Summit in Moscow). He later received the National Medal of the Arts from President Clinton. Brubeck remains a household name in modern jazz, and was still working on projects during the 90s and new millennium. His family of talented musicians presently touring with him are Darius Brubeck (piano), Dan Brubeck (drums), Matthew Brubeck (cello) and Chris Brubeck (bass, bass trombone). His resurgence continued in 1995 with his 75th birthday and the release of Young Lions & Old Tigers, featuring Jon Hendricks, Gerry Mulligan, Joshua Redman, George Shearing, Joe Lovano and Michael Brecker.

By making pop charts all over the world, Dave Brubeck has brought jazz to unsuspecting ears. He has done much to popularize jazz to the masses and is both a legend and jazz icon. In later years his work will surely be added to classical music reference books, notably his mass To Hope! A Celebration, his cantata La Fiesta De La Posada and his Bach-influenced Chromatic Fantasy Sonata.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.

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