Friday, December 07, 2012

Dave Brubeck, 1920-2012

Dave Brubeck, who took jazz in new directions, died Wednesday, one day before his 92nd birthday. I first heard Brubeck during my freshman year of college. I was walking past an open dorm room door and heard some music that wasn't quite like anything I'd heard before. It was jazz, but it didn't follow any jazz pattern I knew--not that I was knowledgeable about jazz--nevertheless it swung. One of my floormates, a transfer from MIT, was walking toward me. His eyes lit up, and he said "Blue Rondo à la Turk!" (Video above.) What made the piece unusual was that it was in 9/8 time instead of the customary 4/4 of jazz and most popular music. I later learned that it came from Time Out, an album that featured the use of unusual time signatures (the cover art is by S. Neil Fujita).  It became one of the best selling jazz albums ever, and included what became Brubeck's most popular piece, "Take Five," (video below) which is in 5/4 time.

The Quartet that recorded Time Out (there were earlier lineups, though Paul Desmond was a constant) consisted of Brubeck on piano, Paul Desmond on sax, Eugene Wright on bass, and Joe Morello on drums. The same players are in the videos above.

Some years after my first acquaintance with Brubeck, I heard a friend's copy of the Dave Brubeck Octet album. Brubeck formed the Octet in 1946, the year I was born. He had served in Patton's army in Europe, where he met Desmond, returned to his native California, studied composition under Darius Milhaud at Mills College, and briefly attended classes with Arnold Schoenberg at UCLA.  He couldn't agree with Schoenberg's insistence on giving each note equal account, and returned to San Francisco to start his own jazz group. The group that made the album  included Desmond, Cal Tjader, Dave Van Kriedt, Dick Collins, William O. Smith, Jack Weeks, and Bob Collins. I was delighted by the inventiveness and energy of the music, and got my own copy of the album. You can hear the Octet's rendition of the George Gershwin standard "Love Walked In" at Last FM.

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