Few jazz artists were as popular and influential as pianist Dave Brubeck. Best known for his iconic recordings from the late 1950s and '60s, Brubeck died of heart failure Wednesday morning at Norwalk Hospital, in Norwalk, Conn., just one day shy of his 92nd birthday.
In a legendary, decades-spanning musical career, the jazz pianist attained almost pop star status for his recordings on albums such as 1959's Time Out with his "classic" Dave Brubeck Quartet -- which included saxophonist Paul Desmond, bassist Gene Wright, and drummer Joe Morello. Those ambitious songs such as "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" pushed the boundaries and tonalities of jazz thanks to the adoption of adventurous melodies and complex time signatures that eschewed traditional 4/4 swing and 3/4 waltz feels.
In the decades since its release, "Take Five" introduced countless listeners and musicians to the 5/4 time signature, which added an extra beat to create an off-kilter swing feel.
At the time, it was equally innovative and risky, but also proved to be extremely commercially successful. Time Out was the first jazz album to sell a million copies, and in 1961, "Take Five" rose to No. 25 on the pop charts, impacting jazz forever. The song remains an essential part of the canon for aspiring jazz musicians.
Brubeck also played a major part in integrating jazz by refusing to play segregated venues, while simultaneously bringing jazz music out of the jazz clubs and pushing it into the mainstream with many college campus tours.
Later in his career, Brubeck took to composing longer works that further married jazz with orchestral arrangements. He also maintained a heavy touring schedule, continued to compose original jazz pieces, frequently recording and performing with a variety of iterations of his group, which often included three of his sons, Darius, Chris, and Dan.
Brubeck was one of the most honored jazz artists of his generation: He was presented with the National Medal of the Arts in 1994 by President Bill Clinton, and the Kennedy Center Honors in 2009 by President Barack Obama. He also has numerous honorary degrees, a lifetime achievement Grammy, a Smithsonian Medal, and even a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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