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Remembering Jazz Icon Dave Brubeck

The jazz pianist known for his performances of "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo A La Turk" died yesterday at the age of 91.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Dave Brubeck (flickr/heiner1947)

Dave Brubeck, one of the most influential and popular figures in jazz, died Wednesday of heart failure in Norwalk, Conn., the day before he would have turned 92 years old. 

Best known for his iconic quartet recordings from the late 1950s and '60s -- particularly on his seminal 1959 album Time Out -- Brubeck brought an inventive polyrhythmic approach to composition that changed the shape and sound of jazz.

"He made the name 'Dave' cool," says Gary Giddins, jazz critic and Executive Director of the Leon Levy Center for Biography at CUNY's Graduate Center. "He made horn-rimmed glasses cool. The guy looked in so many ways to be so square -- and yet he really did become a defining figure that people just gravitated to."

Giddins joins us to remember Brubeck's iconic style in a career that spanned almost seven decades and more than 100 albums and to play three of his favorite songs from the pianist and composer.

Dave Brubeck joined us on Soundcheck in 2002 -- and you can listen to his appearance below. 

Dave Brubeck on Soundcheck, 7/25/2002


Beyond "Take Five": Gary Giddin's Plays Three Must-Hear Songs From Dave Brubeck:

"Balcony Rock," from Jazz Goes to College (1954)

"The Duke," from Jazz: Red Hot and Cool (1955)

"St. Louis Blues," from Jazz Goes to Junior College (1957)  


Gary Giddins

Comments [1]

Eric Levin from Montclair NJ

His staccato block chords and mechanistic patterns eventually got on my nerves, but I still love the first Brubeck album I ever heard, Jazz at Oberlin. It was probably 1964, I was 14, and I seem to recall that the LP was made of translucent red vinyl, which struck me as weird and suspect, not "serious" and "hip" like his handsome new Columbia LPs, a couple of which I owned.

I played Jazz at Oberlin on the family record player, which was barely wider than the 12-inch disc. As I listened, I studied the album cover, wondering how they got two of the musicians onto what I looked like a second floor balcony, directly above the other two musicians leaning against two identical doorways on the ground floor--and how come there was no stairs or railings and the upstairs musicians didn't fall off?

While I pondered this distressing question, the music crept into my head. Before long, I couldn't get it out of my head, nor did I want to. I began to prefer it to Time Out and Jazz Impressions of Eurasia, which had much cooler titles.

Tonight, 48 years later, after hearing your segment with Gary Giddins, I listened to Jazz at Oberlin again, this time on the Amazon Cloud Player on my iPhone, with which I am now writing this comment. My son wonders how I grew up without the Internet, as I used to wonder how my parents grew up without TV.

But Jazz at Oberlin has not aged at all. It bursts with energy, wit and beauty. The fast songs cascade like water over sun-splashed rocks, and the slow ones gather and eddy in shady pools. My favorite then--The Way You Look Tonight--is, I discovered tonight, my favorite still. Desmond's ethereal upper register and the octaves under Brubeck's right hand dance and weave in wondrous ways that leave me giddy trying to keep up with, and Brubeck's rhythms are joyous and surprising.

And all this came back to me, was reborn and rediscovered, because I had the good fortune to be driving home after work tonight when your tribute to Brubeck came on.

So thank you.

Dec. 07 2012 12:54 AM

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