NEW YORK, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, whose
choice of novel rhythms, classical structures and brilliant
sidemen made him a towering figure in modern jazz, has died at
the age of 91, his longtime manager and producer Russell Gloyd
said on Wednesday.
Brubeck died of heart failure on Wednesday morning after he
fell ill on his way to a regular medical exam at Norwalk
Hospital, in Norwalk, Conn., a day short of his 92nd birthday,
His Dave Brubeck Quartet put out one of the best selling
jazz songs of all time: "Take Five," composed by alto
saxophonist Paul Desmond. Like many of the group's works, it had
an unusual beat -- 5/4 time as opposed to the usual 4/4.
"We play it differently every time we play it," Brubeck told
The Philadelphia Inquirer in 2005. "So I never get tired of
playing it. That's the beauty of jazz."
"Take Five" was the first million-selling jazz single.
Dressed in a suit and horn-rimmed glasses and living a
clean-cut lifestyle in the 1950s, Brubeck did not fit the
stereotype of a hipster jazzman and his music was not nearly as
brooding as that coming from East Coast be-bop players.
Despite his innovative approach, some critics interpreted
Brubeck's popularity as a sign of un-coolness, but his fans were
Brubeck was born in Concord, California, on Dec. 6, 1920.
His father was a rancher and as a teenager Brubeck was a skilled
cowboy. But his mother, a music teacher who had five pianos in
the house, saw that he took up piano at age 5.
At the College of the Pacific in Stockton, California, he
planned to be a veterinarian, but within a year he was majoring
in music and playing jazz in nightclubs.
"After my first year in veterinary pre-med I switched to the
music department ... and that was at the advice of my zoology
teacher," Brubeck said in a Reuters interview. "He said
'Brubeck, your mind is not here, with these frogs and
formaldehyde. Your mind is across the lawn at the conservatory.
Will you please go over there.'"
Brubeck later met the co-director of a weekly campus radio
show, Iola Marie Whitlock, and they eventually married.
After graduation, Brubeck studied under French composer
Darius Milhaud and played in a U.S. Army jazz band during World
In the late 1940s, he moved to the San Francisco Bay area,
where he headed an experimental jazz octet. He formed a trio in
1950 and the following year expanded to a quartet with Desmond,
who he had known since the war.
Brubeck injected classical counterpoint, atonal harmonies
and modern dissonance into his music, hinting at composers such
as Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky and Bach.
The group built an enduring fan base by taking its subdued
bluesy brand of classically influenced jazz to colleges.
As a leading figure in the West Coast jazz scene, which also
included Gerry Mulligan and Chet Baker, Brubeck was featured in
a Time magazine cover story in 1954. Some critics and black
musicians, who felt jazz was a central part of black culture,
resented the story about the prominence of a white artist.
In the article Brubeck said Milhaud had told him "if I
didn't stick to jazz, I'd be working out of my own field and not
taking advantage of my American heritage."
Brubeck disbanded the quartet in 1967 after nearly 17 years
to concentrate on composing. He wrote several choral works, all
He later began performing jazz regularly again and appeared
with his sons, Darius, a composer and pianist; Chris, who played
electric bass and trombone; and drummer Danny. They were billed
as Two Generations of Brubeck.
In February 1989 Brubeck, who had a history of heart
problems, underwent triple-bypass surgery but kept playing. Well
into his 80s, he still put on some 80 shows a year. He had a
pacemaker implanted in October 2010.
Actor-director Clint Eastwood, a jazz fan, announced plans
to make a documentary on Brubeck in 2007. Eastwood also was
named chairman of the Brubeck Institute at the University of the
Pacific, designated as the home of his papers, private
recordings and other memorabilia.
Brubeck and his wife, who also was his agent and lyricist,
had two other sons, Matthew, a cellist, and Michael, and a
daughter, Catherine. The couple lived in Wilton, Connecticut.
(Reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Leslie Gevirtz)