In Memoriam – Dave Brubeck
Dave Brubeck, the iconic pianist who transformed jazz with his unpredictable rhythms, rich melodic sensibility and paradigm-shifting vision, died today in a hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut, a day before what would have been hs 92nd birthday. Brubeck wrote party music, dance music, makeout music and profoundly intense, stormy themes that resonate as powerfully and magically now as ever.
One of the greatest composers of the last century, Brubeck drew as deeply on classical music as jazz. A student of Darius Milhaud, he wrote orchestral and choral works as memorable as any of his jazz compositions: his longer pieces often served as vehicles for his more serious, dramatic themes. More than any other composer, Brubeck was responsible for popularizing the use of tempos other than a steady 4/4 across all styles of jazz. He was also arguably the most effective proponent of third-stream music, incorporating classical themes, arrangements and architecture in a swinging, improvisational milieu.
Although he was a gifted pianist and a captivating improviser, a fluent player of blues, gospel and classical music in addition to jazz, Brubeck was not an ostentatious musician: he played purposefully, often creating a narrative or driving a theme to which his his bandmates were encouraged to add their distinctive personalities. His skills remained practically undiminished through a performing career that spanned from the 1930s into this year.
Brubeck recorded the best-selling jazz song of all time, Take Five, the title track to the 1959 album written by his Dave Brubeck Quartet bandmate, alto saxophonist Paul Desmond. Over a recording career that spanned parts of seven decades, he sold millions of albums, not counting millions of downloads, a rarity in jazz. One reason for his popularity is his knack for a catchy tune: few composers in any style of music have written such memorable songs as Three to Get Ready, It’s a Raggy Waltz, Unsquare Dance or Blue Rondo a la Turk, to name a few. Another signature trait that won him millions of followers was his sense of humor; his songs are imbued with as much lively, playful fun as classical rigor. His body of work, both live and in the studio, ranks with those of Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus and any of the classical composers. Considering how vital he was until the very end, one could always hope for another tour and another chance to see this legend in concert: he is greatly and deeply missed. Our thoughts are with all the musicians and individuals lucky enough to know him.
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