by Kevin Kniestedt
“Dave set an example that any musician would be wise to follow – to be loving and treat everyone around you with respect, and create new music every minute we have on this earth.” – Pianist Taylor Eigsti
Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, responsible for the recording of the seminal album Time Out which still ranks as one of the best selling albums of all-time, and the first jazz musician to have a single sell 1 millions albums, died this morning of heart failure. He was 91.
In 1951, he formed the Dave Brubeck Quartet, and made a regular habit of touring and and performing at college campuses, bringing his musical approach to a younger audience. In 1954, Brubeck became only the second musician at that time to appear on the cover of Time Magazine.
The career that Brubeck sustained had an enormous impact on musicians and fans. Brubeck was a recipient of the prestigious National Endowment of the Arts Jazz Master award. Today
NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman reflected on the loss:
“On behalf of the National Endowment for the Arts, it is with great sadness that I acknowledge the passing of National Medal of Arts recipient and NEA Jazz Master Dave Brubeck. One of our nation’s greatest and most popular jazz pianists, Brubeck’s experiment with odd time signatures, improvised counterpoint, and a distinctive harmonic approach resulted in a unique style of music.
Brubeck became a leader in cultural diplomacy, taking part in the first Jazz Ambassadors program during the Cold War. In a 2006 interview with Dana Gioia about his cultural diplomacy efforts, Brubeck said, ‘One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same anyplace in the world, that heartbeat.
It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born – or before you’re born – and it’s the last thing you hear.’His diplomacy efforts led to be the first recipient of the Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy from the U.S. State Department.We join many others in the jazz community and beyond in mourning the loss of this renowned figure in jazz while celebrating his life and contributions to our nation’s musical legacy.”
Jim Wilke, host of the nationally syndicated program Jazz After Hours, had this to say of Brubeck:
“I was one of those college kids when the Dave Brubeck Quartet began touring the college circuit in the 50s. The DBQ was one of the first jazz groups to do that and ‘Jazz Goes to College’ was big on my campus and heard coming out of dorm rooms, jukeboxes and the radio station where I worked.
I played alto sax in a quartet that attempted to emulate the Brubeck Quartet in style if not repertoire as we improvised counter point on standards, and we four were rapt listeners when Dave Brubeck played on our University of Iowa campus.”
In 1959, Brubeck released the album Time Out, which featured a variety of time signatures unconventional to jazz such as 5/4 and 9/8. While critics were somewhat divided initially on how to respond to this release, Time Out enjoyed major success on the charts. In 1961, the single Take Five became the first jazz single to ever sell 1 million copies. Time Out still ranks as one of the best selling jazz albums of all time. In 2010 National Public Radio (in partnership with 88.5 KPLU and Jazz24.org) polled listeners and readers on what they thought the greatest jazz songs of all-time were. The list, called The Quintessential Jazz 100, ended up ranking Take Five as the number one jazz song of all-time, according to voters.
Throughout his career, Brubeck maintained a devotion to traditional jazz while at the same time branching out and exploring a variety of other avenues which included larger jazz groups, orchestral works, ballet and opera, which often were inspired by his spirituality.
Pianist Taylor Eigsti, who performed with both Dave Brubeck and his sons, Chris and Dan, shared with me today the inspiration he received from the jazz legend:
“Dave set an example that any musician would be wise to follow – to be loving and treat everyone around you with respect, and create new music every minute we have on this earth. I feel lucky to have known him, and his amazing family throughout the years, and will always be inspired by the Brubeck family and all of the positivity and brilliant music Dave gave to the world.“
Brubeck received awards from both Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, and on Nov. 7 the Dave Brubeck Quartet was recognized for the second consecutive year as the Best Jazz Group in the Downbeat Magazine Readers Poll – quite the honor considering Brubeck had stopped touring.
Dave Brubeck is survived by his wife, Iola, four sons and a daughter, grandsons and a great granddaughter.