Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b David Warren Brubeck, 6 December 1920, Concord CA; d 5 December 2012, Norwalk CT) Pianist, leader, composer. From a musical family, he made up music while herding cows on horseback. He played with local bands age 13; studied with Darius Milhaud; recorded with a octet in 1948 and in a trio '49 with Ron Crotty (b 1929, San Francisco; d April 2015) on bass and Cal Tjader; he was so poor he had to live on surplus food, then the quartet became internationally popular 1951-67 with Paul Desmond on alto sax: easily the most successful of the West Coast (largely white) school of cool jazz emerging in the early 1950s. Their first successes were on college campuses in 1952 (with Lloyd Davis on drums); Brubeck later joked that they had played for free at so many high schools that when college kids were asked who they wanted to hear the only jazz musician they had heard of was Brubeck. LPs such as Jazz At Oberlin and Jazz At The College Of The Pacific were successful on the young Fantasy label; they switched to Columbia in 1954. Bob Bates (b 1 September 1923, Pocatello ID; d 13 September 1981) played bass '53-5, then his brother Norman Bates (b 26 August 1927, Boise ID), then Eugene Wright (b 29 May 1923, Chicago; d 30 December 2020) from '58. Joe Dodge (b 1922, Monroe WI; d 18 August 2004) played drums '53-6, had earlier played in a a group with Desmond; the elegant Joe Morello (b 17 July 1928, Springfield MA; d 12 February 2011, Irvington NJ), partially blind due to macular degeneration, joined on drums '56.

Serving in the U.S. Army during WWII while bop was being invented, Brubeck had gone his own way when he got out; his style was cerebral, harmonically dense, full of classical devices such as block chording, fugues and counterpoint, not unknown in jazz but now used more self-consciously; the music seemed more innovatory than it was, but the group's enormous popularity was valuable at a time when jazz was not otherwise commercially successful. Brubeck played lovely solos on ballads ('Stardust' '53); his ability to swing was unfairly questioned, but even critics liked Morello's tasty technique and Desmond's unique tone and style. It is not true that Brubeck played too many notes; he was challenging fans to listen to (an unpublished essay on him is called 'From Modernism To Postmodernism'), but it is fair to say that Desmond's understatement was the perfect foil, the ultimate in cool (see his entry).

Brubeck and/or the quartet won all the polls. The quartet played Newport Jazz Festivals '56-8, and did an international tour in 1958; Eugene Wright played bass on the tour but didn't know that Brubeck wanted him as a permanent member of the group, so had accepted a date with Carmen McRae for when the tour was over; that's why Joe Benjamin (b 4 November 1919, Atlantic City NJ; d 26 January 1974) played bass at Newport '58 instead of Wright. The first Columbia album Jazz Goes To College had made the top ten of Billboard's pop album chart '54, followed by others: Dave Brubeck At Storyville, Brubeck Time, Red Hot And Cool were all released '55. Tracks from the last two are reissued on a Columbia Legacy CD Interchange '54: the compilation should have included 'Makin' Time', which appeared only on a sampler, and is one of the quartet's most beautiful tracks of those years, but the CD is 63 minutes of good value, and anybody who says this music doesn't swing is following a hidden agenda (plus there is the sheer beauty of the arrangements, e.g. on 'Brother, Can You Spare A Dime?'). Brubeck had made the cover of of Time magazine, and the cover of Brubeck Time reproduced Boris Artzybasheff's painting of Brubeck for the magazine cover; Red Hot and Cool was tied to a cosmetics promotion. Jazz Goes To Junior College '57 charted, but the biggest hit was Time Out '60, with a different time signature on each tune: singles charted in USA and UK; forever after Desmond's composition 'Take Five' was played by buskers. Morello's drumming was an important part of this success; Time Further Out '61 was the inevitable sequel.

They recorded with Louis Armstrong and Trummy Young '59, in '60-61 with Jimmy Rushing, Carmen McRae and longtime associate from San Francisco days Bill Smith on clarinet; with a string orchestra directed by composer brother Howard Brubeck; and Armstrong again with Lambert, Hendricks and Ross. Howard's composition 'Dialogue For Jazz Combo And Orchestra' was broadcast '59, recorded '60 by the quartet with NYPO conducted by Leonard Bernstein. Brubeck wrote Points In Jazz '60 for American Ballet Theatre; a previously recorded show The Real Ambassadors with lyrics by Dave's wife Iola was performed at Monterey Jazz Festival '62 with the quartet, Armstrong, McRae and Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan.

Brubeck disbanded to concentrate on composition; then formed a new quartet '68 for a Mexican Festival with Gerry Mulligan (with whom Brubeck had appeared at Newport in 1954); Jack Six, bass (b 26 July 1930, Danville IL; d early 2015), Alan Dawson, drums (b 14 July 1929, Marietta PA). It was a trio after 1972 except for special engagements. From 1974 he toured and recorded with sons Dan on percussion, Chris on trombone and David Darius on piano, the act called Two Generations Of Brubeck (Atlantic LP '74). (See also entry for the Brubeck Brothers Quartet.) Dave's compositions included fine tunes 'In Your Own Sweet Way', 'The Duke'; oratorio The Light In The Wilderness '68, cantatas, songs etc with texts by Iola.

About 100 Dave Brubeck albums included a solo piano LP '56; other quartet albums included live Dave Goes To College, Dave Digs Disney, two-disc At Carnegie Hall '63, Jazz Impressions Of Japan, Of New York '64-5, Time Changes '64, Plays Cole Porter '65, Time In '66, all on Columbia; 25th Anniversary Reunion '76 on Horizon. With Mulligan: Blues Roots '68, Last Set At Newport '71, others. More recent LPs included The Duets '75 on Horizon with Desmond; All The Things We Are '76 on Atlantic has an imaginative quintet organized and produced by Michael Cuscuna, with Brubeck, Six, Roy Haynes, Lee Konitz and Anthony Braxton. Albums on Concord include Back Home '79, Tritonis '80; Paper Moon '81 features Chris on trombone, Jerry Bergonzi on tenor sax (both doubling on bass), Randy Jones, drums; Concord On A Summer Night '82 and For Iola '85 have Brubeck, Chris, Jones and Smith; Moscow Night was made live '87.

After a triple-bypass heart operation Brubeck continued active: symphonic and choral piece 'Joy In The Morning' premièred '91; new albums on Telarc included live quartet Late Night Brubeck '93, solo Just You, Just Me '94, NightShift '95, then Young Lions And Old Tigers put him together with other jazz stars both young and old. To Hope! A Celebration '95 is a Mass in 15 sections, recorded at the Washington National Cathedral with orchestra, chorus and soloists, the excellent quartet including Six on bass, Jones on drums, Bobby Militello on alto, but the whole is 'beautiful voices raised in praise with a smattering of jazz' (Cadence). In Their Own Sweet Way '95-6 had a quintet of Brubecks including Matthew on cello; Chris Brubeck and Bill Crofut wrote good lyrics to Dave's tunes and produced the mellow and friendly Across Your Dreams '96 with vocalists Crofut and Frederica von Stade accompanied by an octet. John Salmon plays a collection of Brubeck compositions for solo piano on Naxos in its American Classics series; in its Milken Archive of Jewish Music series Naxos also released The Gates Of Justice, composed '69, recorded 2001, with Brubeck on piano, Michael Moore on bass and Jones on drums, plus the chorus and orchestra of the Baltimore Choral Arts Society directed by Russell Gloyd, with bass-bartitone Kevin Deans and tenor cantor Alberto Mizrahi, the words from Hebrew texts and from Martin Luther King.

Iola Brubeck (d 12 March 2014, aged 90) was Dave Brubeck's beloved champion and partner in every respect. It was her idea to concentrate on college campuses in the early 1950s, launching the quartet and permanently influencing the marketing of jazz. Clarinettist Bill Smith (d 29 February 2020 aged 93) had also studied with Milhaud and played in the early Brubeck octet; he could play anything, and was known as William O. Smith in his classical work.