Dave Brubeck, whose more cerebral approach as a pianist and composer helped elevate jazz in the 1950s and made him one of the music’s best-known figures, died Wednesday in Norwalk, Conn. He was one day shy of turning 92. The cause of death was heart failure, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune.
Mr. Brubeck’s 1960 recording “Time Out” became the first million-selling jazz album. Its most celebrated track, “Take Five,” was the first jazz single to attain gold-record status. It almost immediately became Mr. Brubeck’s signature tune, one of the most recognizable pieces in jazz.An anthem of dawn-of-the-New-Frontier cool, “Take Five” epitomizes what one might call JFK jazz: laidback yet intense, aloof yet engaging. It also epitomizes Mr. Brubeck’s music in its use of an unusual time signature (5/4) and lucid, abstract feel. By Mr. Brubeck’s standards, 5/4 was reasonably mainstream. He also recorded music in 7/4, 9/8, 11/4, and even 13/4.
Although Mr. Brubeck composed a number of jazz standards, including “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” “The Duke,” and “In Your Own Sweet Way,” the composer of “Take Five” was the alto player Paul Desmond. Desmond’s unmistakable tone — dry, floating, incisive — was central to the sound of Mr. Brubeck’s quartet, which from its formation in 1951 to its disbanding in 1967, dominated both reader polls and sales charts. Desmond’s lyricism and understatement ideally complemented Mr. Brubeck’s more earthbound pianism.
Mr. Brubeck played a crucial role in the transformation of jazz from a broadly popular, if little respected, genre that was viewed mainly as dance music to one accorded greater intellectual respectability and listened to for its own sake, albeit by a markedly smaller audience. “Dave’s contribution lies in the dignity he’s given jazz,” music promoter George Wein said in 1955.
Certainly, no one would ever accuse the Brubeck Quartet of being a dance band. “I wanted to play against the rhythm sections rather than with them, just as a modern choreographer does in ballet,” Mr. Brubeck once said. “It was very hard to get a rhythm section to do what I wanted it to do.”
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