Dave Brubeck, one of the true legends of jazz, died on Wednesday, the day before his 92nd birthday. It’s difficult to overstate his importance in the history of jazz as a pianist, composer and bandleader. In particular, his pushing of the boundaries of the genre with odd time signatures influenced the last two generations of musicians like few others have.
If you’ve listened to jazz at all, you’ve surely heard his two most famous songs. The first is Blue Rondo a la Turk, which he based on Turkish folk music that he heard while touring Europe. The song displays his remarkable fluidity with time signature changes, going back and forth between 9/8 and 4/4. The opening of the song is immediately recognizable:
The second, Take Five, is equally infamous and is one of the most covered songs in jazz history. This one is in 5/4 time.
Jazz was born out of black culture, especially in the south, but the white Brubeck quickly gained acceptance and admiration from black musicians (as did his sax player, Paul Desmond). And like all musicians of his generation, he had to contend with rampant discrimination against blacks. His bass player, Gene Wright, was black and Brubeck refused to play clubs that discriminated against him or stay in hotels that would not let him stay. He also refused to tour South Africa because of apartheid. He composed many pieces, including a full musical, that strongly addressed racism and other political themes.
By any measure, Brubeck was one of the true giants of jazz. His name deserves to be mentioned with Dizzy, Bird, Miles, Mingus, Monk and Trane in the jazz pantheon.
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