Do you know who Dave Brubeck is? You could call him a jazz musician (which would be true), you could also call him a choral/classical composer (true), you could call him the creator of a platinum album (yes-true, too!). What you can also call him a nonagenarian. Dave Brubeck turns 90 today.
You may have seen him as a honoree at the Kennedy Center for the Arts on December 6, 2009. You will notice that the three songs featured here ‘swing’ even though they are in ‘odd meters.’ “Unsquare Dance” is in 7/4, Take Five is in 5/4, and Blue Rondo a la Turk alternates between a 3+3+2/8 and 4/4. (What is cool is that halfway through this, his four sons join the Army Band in playing Blue Rondo. See the joy that comes across Brubeck’s face.
I first came across Brubeck back in 1995 while attending Southern Seminary. I had started really listening and playing jazz the year before during my last year as a music major at Palm Beach Atlantic University. The big influences were Bill Evans and Dave Brubeck. Why? I was intrigued by the choral structures both brought to the table—especially Brubeck. Brubeck noted that at times when being creative and sloppy were put up against being technical and non-creative, he would go creative and sloppy everytime.
But make no mistake, this man is a creative composer and improvisor.
He grew up in a very musical home and took that talent into the Armed Forces during World War II. There, he met Paul Desmond, master alto saxophonist. When they left the service, Brubeck went to college on the G.I. Bill to study music. He began studying composition with the famed composer Darius Milhaud and also formed an octet with Desmond.
In 1951, the famed Dave Brubeck Quartet was formed. Dave Brubeck on piano, Desmond on sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums. For the next 17 years, they toured the country and became what many felt they couldn’t: play good jazz while maintaining mainstream popularity.
In 1959, DBQ put out an album known as “Time Out.” Each of the pieces were written in an off-meter (that is, not in 2/4, 3/4, nor 4/4 exclusively). Two of the pieces in the Kennedy Center clip debuted on “Time Out.” The signature piece which became a standard was “Take Five.”
This piece almost never came into being. Brubeck assigned Desmond to write a piece in 5/4. He wrote out the opening and bridge but didn’t like it and didn’t think Brubeck would either. He came very close to throwing it away, but they decided on a lark to put it on the album anyway. The rest is history. (An interesting note: Upon his death in 1977, Desmond left the rights to royalties for performances and compositions, including “Take Five”, to the American Red Cross, which has since received combined royalties of approximately $100,000 per year.)
Brubeck is still active, doing concerts, releasing CDs, and composing. For more information about Brubeck, log on to http://www.davebrubeck.com.
Happy birthday, Dave!