Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

December 6, 2012 at 12:26 am (good people, jazz, Jim D, United States)

Pianist, composer, bandleader and committed anti-racist Dave Brubeck died yesterday. Today would have been his 92nd birthday.

The New York Times obit, by  Ben Ratliff is worth a read, and contains links to a lot of YouTube clips.

Many of the radio and TV tributes have played his big hit ‘Take Five,’ failing to mention – or perhaps simply unaware of  - the fact that it wasn’t written by Brubeck but by his altoist at the time, Paul Desmond. Here’s the classic Brubeck Quartet with Desmond, drummer Joe Morello and bassist Eugene Wright, playing a tune Brubeck did write: ‘Blue Rondo à la Turk’:

The title derives from the  “Turkish” 9/8 rhythms 2+2+2+3 and 3+3+3 which are played in the first part of the piece. Brubeck liked “unusual” time signatures.

His music was sometimes criticised for (allegedly) being lightweight and commercial, but there can be no doubting his sincerity and devotion to the music, as well as his fundamental human decency. He also introduced a lot of people to jazz; when ‘Take Five’ was released as a single (with ‘Blue Rondo à la Turk’ on the ‘B’ side) in 1962 it sold a million copies – an unprecedented achievement for a jazz instrumental.

PS: John Fordham states in today’s (6 Dec) Graun that “Brubeck was a conscientious objector in world war two”, though that claim does not appear in the online version of the obituary (http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/dec/05/dave-brubeck). Does anyone know whether or not it’s true?

5 Comments

  1. martin ohr said,

    I’m slightly sick of 10 second clips of Take Five which proliferated in the last 24 hours. It’s not a terrible tune, just one that is overheard. Whereas Blue Rondo is altogether much more interesting

  2. entdinglichung said,

    wikipedia says about his military service:

    After graduating in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the army and served overseas in George Patton’s Third Army. He was spared from service in the Battle of the Bulge when he volunteered to play piano at a Red Cross show; he was such a hit he was ordered to form a band. Thus he created one of the US armed forces’ first racially integrated bands, “The Wolfpack”. While serving in the military, Brubeck met Paul Desmond in early 1944. He returned to college after serving nearly four years in the army

    Brubeck believed that what he saw during his time as a soldier in World War II contradicted the Ten Commandments, and the war evoked a spiritual awakening. He became a Catholic in 1980, shortly after completing the Mass To Hope which had been commissioned by Ed Murray, editor of the national Catholic weekly Our Sunday Visitor.

  3. Faster Pussycat Miaow! Miaow! Miaow! said,

    The most memorable thing about the otherwise entirely unremarkable JAZZ series by Ken Burns is Brubeck breaking down while recounting being taken by his father to meet an elderly black man who worked on his father’s ranch and the old man showing him the whip scars on his back. That’s all you really need to know about Brubeck. He was variously accused of being ‘unfeeling’ and ‘lighweight’ but 1. that’s the West Coast and 2. what you are hearing is massive influence of the French modernism of Les Six. If I recall correctly, his ‘blocky’ playing style was due to an injury.
    In any case, Brubeck’s music was an order of magnitude better than the sort of ‘trad’ jazz inflicted on unwary pub-goers on Sunday afternoons by middle aged men in bowties and straw boaters, which is unfortunately what most younger people associate with ‘jazz’. Smoking a little Brubeck is wont to lead to mainlining Trane.

  4. Jim Denham said,

    Good stuff in the Graun from Philip Clark, Brubeck’s biographer:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/musicblog/2012/dec/06/dave-brubeck-best-video-clips

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