Dave Brubeck (December 6, 1920 – December 5, 2012) was an American jazz pianist originally from Concord, California. Brubeck's style ranged from refined to bombastic, reflecting his mother's attempts at classical training and his improvisational skills. His music is known for employing unusual time signatures, and superimposing contrasting rhythms, meters, and tonalities.
After graduating from college in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the army and served overseas in George Patton's Third Army. He was spared from service in the Battle of the Bulge when he volunteered to play piano at a Red Cross show and was such a hit he was ordered to form a band. Thus he created one of the U.S. armed forces' first racially integrated bands, The Wolfpack.
While serving in the military, Brubeck met Paul Desmond in early 1944. Brubeck helped to establish Berkeley, California's Fantasy Records. He worked with an octet and a trio including Cal Tjader and Ron Crotty. Highly experimental, the group made few recordings and got even fewer paying jobs. The trio was often joined by Paul Desmond on the bandstand, at Desmond's prodding.
Brubeck organized The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, with Desmond on saxophone. They took up a long residency at San Francisco's Black Hawk nightclub and gained great popularity touring college campuses, recording a series of albums with such titles as 1953’s “Jazz at Oberlin,” and “Jazz at College of the Pacific,” and Brubeck's 1954 debut on Columbia Records, “Jazz Goes to College.”
Early bassists for the group included Ron Crotty, Bob Bates, and Bob's brother Norman Bates, while Lloyd Davis and Joe Dodge held the drum chair. In 1956, Brubeck hired Joe Morello, who had been working with Marian McPartland. It was Morello's presence that made possible the rhythmic experiments that were to come. In 1958 Eugene Wright joined for the group's U.S. State Department tour of Europe and Asia. Wright became a permanent member in 1959, making the classic Quartet's personnel complete.
In 1959, the Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded “Time Out,” an album their label was enthusiastic about but nonetheless hesitant to release. Featuring the album art of S. Neil Fujita, the album contained all original compositions, almost none of which were in common time, 9/8, 5/4, 3/4, and 6/4 were used inspired by Eurasian folk music they experienced during that U.S. State Department sponsored tour. Nonetheless, on the strength of these unusual time signatures, which included “Take Five,” “Blue Rondo à la Turk” and “Pick Up Sticks,” it quickly went platinum.
The quartet followed up its success with several more albums in the same vein, including “Time Further Out,” “Countdown: Time in Outer Space,” “Time Change” and “Time In.” These albums were also known for using contemporary paintings as cover art, featuring the work of S. Neil Fujita on “Time Out,” Joan Miró on “Time Further Out,” Franz Kline on “Time in Outer Space” and Sam Francis on “Time Changes.” A high point for the group was their classic 1963 live album “At Carnegie Hall.”
At their peak in the early 1960s, the Brubeck Quartet was releasing as many as four albums a year. Apart from the “College” and the “Time” series, Brubeck recorded four LPs featuring his compositions based on the group's travels, and the local music they encountered. Jazz 1956’s “Impressions of the USA” (Morello's debut with the group), 1958’s “Jazz Impressions of Eurasia,” 1964’s “Jazz Impressions of Japan” and “Jazz Impressions of New York” are less well-known albums, but all are solid examples of the quartet's studio work, and they produced Brubeck standards such as “Summer Song,” “Brandenburg Gate,” “Koto Song” and “Theme From Mr. Broadway.”
The final studio album for Columbia by the Desmond/Wright/Morello quartet was 1966’s “Anything Goes” featuring Cole Porter songs. A few concert recordings followed, and 1967’s “The Last Time We Saw Paris” was the classic Quartet's swansong.
Brubeck's disbanding of the Quartet at the end of 1967 allowed him more time to compose the longer, extended orchestral and choral works that were occupying his attention. February 1968 saw the premiere of “The Light in the Wilderness” for baritone solo, choir, organ, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra conducted by Erich Kunzel, and Brubeck improvising on certain themes within. The piece is an oratorio on Jesus's teachings. The next year, Brubeck produced “The Gates of Justice,” a cantata mixing Biblical scripture with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.