Dave Brubeck

portrait of dave brubeck with sheet music as backdrop 1“There’s a way of playing safe, there’s a way of using tricks and there’s the way I like to play which is dangerously where you’re going to take a chance on making mistakes in order to create something you haven’t created before”
-Dave Brubeck
We are remembering Dave Brubeck this month, as he was born, and passed away in in December.

Dave Brubeck (1920-2012) was a jazz musician whose work with Paul Desmond launched the West Coast Cool Jazz Movement. Brubeck brought world, classical, and jazz together in unique and incredible music. His experiments with odd time signatures, improvised counterpoint, and a distinctive harmonic approach were the hallmarks of his unique musical style.


Dave Brubeck started his music education early on. His mother, who was a music teacher, introduced him to music, and taught him piano starting at the age of 4. Brubeck went on to study music at the College of the Pacific at Stockton, California. After graduation, in 1942, he was drafted into the US Army, and served in Europe during WWII as part of an army band. Brubeck formed “The Wolfpack”, one of the first racially integrated bands in the US armed forces. After the war, Brubeck completed his graduate studies at Mills College in Oakland, California, where he was mentored by the renowned composer and educator Darius Milhaud. 




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from left to right: Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Joe Morello, Eugene Wright

After having experimented with an octet, and a trio format, Dave Brubeck created The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1946. Brubeck and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond, were the original members of the Quartet. The band underwent multiple membership changes during the quartet’s tenure, with nearly twenty members being a part of the quartet. The final formation with Brubeck on piano, Desmond on alto saxophone, Joe Morello on drums, and Eugene Wright on bass created some of the most iconic Albums in jazz history, and helped to introduce the genre to mainstream audiences. 

The Dave Brubeck Quartet recorded over 60 live and studio albums. The band famously toured and conducted seminars in colleges across the US. These resulted in a few seminal Albums: Jazz at Oberlin (1953), Jazz Goes to College (1954), and Jazz Goes to Junior College (1957).

In 1959 the quartet recorded Time Out, it’s most famous album that became one of the greatest recordings in jazz history. The Album consists of original compositions characterized by Brubeck’s unique style. The music mixes genres ranging from atonal music to folk and world music. This unique combination of styles allowed Brubeck to create a sound that was both accessible to audiences and challenging to the jazz establishment of that time. Time Out was the first jazz album to sell over one million records, and inspired countless musicians and listeners. Read more about Time Out, and the track “Take Five” featured on the Album HERE.

Dave Brubeck was a major figure in the West Coast jazz movement, which was known for its cool, intellectual approach to the music. In addition to being recognized as a skillful performer, Brubeck received high acclaim as a composer. His best-known compositions include “The Duke,” “In Your Own Sweet Way,” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” In 1954, at the peak of his fame, Dave Brubeck was featured on the cover of Time Magazine. The Dave Brubeck Quartet continued experimenting with unusual time signatures and incorporating world music following the success of Time Out. In the 1960s the band was very prolific, releasing nearly 2-4 albums each year. Some of the notable recordings include Time Changes (1963) and Time In (1966).  

Learn more about Dave Brubeck Quartet HERE

The Dave Brubeck Quartet disbanded in 1967, although they were to have several reunions. Brubeck led a variety of small groups, including the quartet he formed with his sons Darius (keyboards), Chris (bass and trombone), and Danny (drums). One of the albums from that period is Two Generations of Brubeck (1973). Dave Brubeck continued performing and recording in the 1980s and ’90s, releasing a number of important Albums: Paper Moon (1981), Blue Rondo (1986), Moscow Nights (1987), Nightshift (1993), In Their Own Sweet Way (1994), and To Hope! A Celebration (1996). 

Enjoy this live performance of Dave Brubeck Quartet from 1964


Dave Brubeck’s style of play is characterized by his use of unorthodox time signatures, improvised counterpoint, and a distinctive harmonic approach. His piano often kept time for the band, a task usually reserved for the drummer. He experimented with integrating jazz and classical music, and performed with orchestras. Brubeck also incorporated elements of world music – European, Middle Eastern, Latin, and others. A good example of this is the Czech-inspired Impressions of Eurasia (1958), which featured a blend of Chopin, folk music, and jazz.

“You can’t understand America without understanding jazz. And you can’t understand jazz, without understanding Dave Brubeck.”
-US President Barack Obama 


1975   The main-belt asteroid 5079 Brubeck was named after Brubeck

2006   Brubeck was presented with a distinguished Artist Award from the University of Michigan’s Musical Society 

2008   Brubeck was presented with a “Benjamin Franklin Award for Public Diplomacy” by United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice

Dave Brubeck was inducted into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.

Brubeck received an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York.

2009   Brubeck was named a Kennedy Center honoree for his contributions to American jazz. 

Brubeck was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from Berklee College of Music

2010   Brubeck was awarded an honorary Doctor of Music degree from the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

Brubeck was awarded the Miles Davis Award at the Montreal International Jazz Festival

Bruce Ricker and Clint Eastwood produced Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way, a documentary about Brubeck for Turner Classic Movies to        commemorate his 90th birthday in December 2010.

The Concord Boulevard Park in his hometown of Concord, California, was posthumously renamed to “Dave Brubeck Memorial Park” in his honor. 

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Dave Brubeck’s music left a lasting legacy on musicians and jazz lovers worldwide. 

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