Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck dies at 91

Dave Brubeck, a jazz pianist known for recordings such as Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk, has died in Norwalk, Conn., just a day shy of his 92nd birthday.
Dave Brubeck, pictured in 2009, died Wednesday of heart failure. (Alex Brandon/Associated Press)

Dave Brubeck, a jazz pianist and composer known for recordings such as Take Five and Blue Rondo a la Turk, has died in Norwalk, Conn., according to his manager-producer.

He was one day shy of his 92nd birthday.  

Tributes for Brubeck

"No one else played like Dave Brubeck, No one had the approach to the music that he did. That approach communicated."  — George Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival

Brubeck and Oscar Peterson "truly were the ones that brought the level of jazz music to the concert hall, truly.  Prior to their existence, jazz music was always in the back cellars or in the small dingy rooms.  He's a credit to music." — Oliver Jones, Canadian pianist.

Brubeck died Wednesday morning of heart failure after being stricken while on his way to a cardiology appointment with his son Darius, said his manager Russell Gloyd.

Brubeck was enormously influential in the 1950s and 1960s, creating challenging music with unusual time signatures and adventurous sounds.

He and his Dave Brubeck Quartet, formed in 1951, were also extremely popular. His 1959 recording Time Out is among the best-selling jazz albums of all time.

In 1954, Brubeck was the first modern jazz musician to have his picture on the cover of Time magazine.

Time Out is a collection of numbers written in unconventional time signatures.

The opening song, Blue Rondo a la Turk, is in 9/8 time — with nine beats to the measure instead of the customary two, three or four beats and features Brubeck on piano. Another track, Take Five — in 5/4 time — became the Quartet's signature theme.

Jazz musician Dave Brubeck plays a keyboard at his induction with 12 other honorees into the 2008 California Hall of Fame at The California Museum on Dec. 15, 2008, in Sacramento, Calif. (The California Museum/ Getty Images)

"When you start out with goals — mine were to play polytonally and polyrhythmically — you never exhaust that," Brubeck said in 1995. "I started doing that in the 1940s. It's still a challenge to discover what can be done with just those two elements."

Brubeck continued to innovate through the years, earning new fans on college campuses even as rock dominated the charts.

In 1967, Brubeck dissolved the Dave Brubeck Quartet and began composing longer works that often focused on his spiritual beliefs, including an oratorio for jazz ensemble and orchestra, The Light in the Wilderness, which debuted in 1968 and The Gates of Justice melded passages from the Bible with the writings of Martin Luther King.

Jazz fusion

He wrote for TV and film and composed Upon This Rock, which was written for Pope John Paul II's visit to San Francisco in 1987.

Birthday concert becomes tribute

A concert that had been planned to celebrate the 92nd birthday of jazz legend Dave Brubeck will go on as scheduled Thursday in Waterbury, Conn.

Concert organizer Mike Gow says the musicians will turn the evening into a celebration of Brubeck’s life.

Those scheduled to perform include Brubeck’s son Darius; Richie Cannata, a saxophone player for Billy Joel; and Bernie Williams, the former New York Yankees outfielder and a jazz guitarist.

In the 1970s, he fused jazz, blues and rock in Two Generations of Brubeck, a group that included his three of his sons — Chris on bass trombone and electric bass, Dan on drums and Matthew on cello.

Brubeck performed around the world and continued touring into his late 80s.

Born in Concord, Calif., on Dec. 6, 1920, Brubeck planned to become a rancher like his father. As a teenager, he performed with a local dance band, but he planned to study veterinary medicine at college.

He attended the College of the Pacific (now the University of the Pacific) in 1938, playing at local nightspots to finance his tuition.

After graduating in 1942, he was drafted into the army and asked to play Red Cross shows for the troops. He served in Europe under Gen. George S. Patton and asked to form a jazz band with his fellow soldiers.

That group, the Wolfpack, was one of the few multiracial ensembles of the time.

Studied with Darius Milhaud

After the war, Brubeck studied under French composer Darius Milhaud, who encouraged him to experiment with different time signatures and tonality.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet, left to right, saxophonist Paul Desmond (1924-1977), drummer Joe Dodge, pianist Dave Brubeck and bassist Bob Bates, performing a modern jazz number in the 1960s. (Hulton Archive/Getty Images )

Brubeck made his first commercial recordings in the late 1940s with California’s Fantasy Records, playing in a trio with Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty.

The later Dave Brubeck Quartet had a shifting lineup, which included Paul Desmond on alto sax, Joe Morello on drums and  Eugene Wright as bassist.

They became international stars, with the State Department arranging for them to perform overseas at diplomatic engagements in Russia, Poland, Turkey, India, Afghanistan, Iraq and Sri Lanka.

Sons played in tribute

Brubeck and his wife, Iola, had five sons and a daughter. Four of his sons — Chris on trombone and electric bass, Dan on drums, Darius on keyboards and Matthew on cello — played with the London Symphony Orchestra in a birthday tribute to Brubeck in December 2000.  

His son Matt is a music instructor at York University in Toronto and was nominated for a Juno earlier this year.

Dave Brubeck on CBC's Music Makers on June 19, 1958. Roy Martin/CBC Still Photo Collection.

"We never had a rift," Chris Brubeck once said of living and playing with his father. "I think music has always been a good communication tool, so we didn't have a rift. We've always had music in common."

Brubeck was presented with the National Medal of the Arts in 1994 by then President Bill Clinton and the Kennedy Center Honours in 2009 by Barack Obama.

Brubeck also has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, a lifetime achievement Grammy from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, the Smithsonian Medal, and honorary degrees from universities in five different countries. 

with files from The Associated Press