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Dave Brubeck, a jazz pianist and composer who made some of the most deceptively simple music of the 20th century, died yesterday morning at the age of 91.
Born in Concord, Calif., on Dec. 6, Brubeck learned classical piano at a young age from his mother. He later studied at Mills College with the French composer Darius Milhaud after leading a band in Europe during World War II.
Brubeck experimented with the octet and trio formats in the 1940s, eventually gaining widespread popularity in the 1950s with his classic quartet of Paul Desmond on alto saxophone, Eugene Wright on bass and Joe Morello on drums. In 1954, Brubeck’s face appeared on the cover of Time magazine.
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For whatever reasons — his commercial success, his nerdy persona or perhaps his chord-heavy technique — many jazz musicians have disavowed Brubeck’s influence.
In an interview with Ethan Iverson earlier this year, the pianist Fred Hersch said: “We don’t feel about Brubeck, sad to say. I mean, for a guy who arguably has sold more records than any other jazz pianist in jazz history, I don’t think he’s influenced much of anybody. It’s a void.”
Cecil Taylor, however, has spoken of “the depth and texture of [Brubeck’s] harmony, which had more notes in it than anyone else’s that I had ever heard.”
Brubeck led a rigorous touring schedule throughout his life and worked on a wide range of musical projects, including ballets, oratorios, cantatas and even a mass, along with his jazz work. Below are ten Brubeck songs we think you might like. As it happens, Brubeck would have turned 92 today. So, happy birthday, Dave. These songs are for you.
“Fugue on Bop Themes”
Brubeck made octet music in the late 1940s that in many ways presaged Miles Davis’s influential Birth of the Cool sessions.
“Blue Moon” and “Tea for Two”
Before he formed his classic quartet, Brubeck played in a trio with Ron Crotty and Cal Tjader, who would later become an important vibraphonist in the Latin jazz idiom.
“The Way You Look Tonight”
In the early 1950s, Brubeck’s quartet became quite popular among college students.
“Pennies From Heaven”
Brubeck Time is one of Brubeck’s best albums, but it’s not very well known. The piano solo on this song may be one of the finest and weirdest things Brubeck ever did.
“Someday My Prince Will Come”
The title of this album, Dave Digs Disney, didn’t do much for the pianist’s reputation as a serious jazz artist. But as Brubeck himself liked to suggest, the song he recorded on it — this one — did wonders for Miles Davis.
“Three to Get Ready”
“Three to Get Ready” is one of the lesser known songs on Brubeck’s iconic 1959 release, Time Out. In it, the musicians, rock back and forth between two-measure pockets of three and four. Three to get ready, four to go.
“Blue Rondo a la Turk”
Count it out: 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3; 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3; 1-2, 1-2, 1-2, 1-2-3; 1-2-3, 1-2-3, 1-2-3. Rinse and repeat. That’s 9/8 time, broken down.
To us, this song is the apotheosis of cool. Take in Paul Desmond’s smooth-as-butter phrasing, or Joe Morello’s drum solo, defined by the spaces he leaves between the the hits.
“In Your Own Sweet Way”
This is one of Brubeck’s loveliest and most-covered compositions.
“St. Louis Blues”
Later in his career, Brubeck put together another quartet featuring the alto saxophonist Bobby Militello.