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Jazz legend Dave Brubeck passes away

Composer and musician who helped shape contemporary jazz dies in Connecticut after sudden heart failure at age of 91.
Last Modified: 06 Dec 2012 06:45

Jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, whose experiments in rhythm and style helped win millions of new fans for the music around the world, has died of heart failure, his manager has said.

Brubeck, who was a day away from his 92nd birthday, died in a hospital in Norwalk, Connecticut, on Wednesday, Russell Gloyd said.

The composer and musician won a slew of awards over the course of a career that spanned more than six decades. He was still playing as recently as last year.

Brubeck performed at the White House for presidents and visiting dignitaries, and was designated a "Living Legend" by the Library of Congress.

Brubeck's 1959 album "Time Out" became the first million-selling jazz record of the modern era, as songs "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo a la Turk" defied the indifference of critics to become classics in the genre.

A big party had been planned for Sunday to celebrate Brubeck's birthday, Gloyd said. On Wednesday, however, he felt ill, and was taken to the emergency room.

"They came up later and said we just can't keep this heart going," Gloyd said.

Quartet

Brubeck's success cemented his reputation as one of the great popularisers in the history of jazz, after years of nudging the music into mainstream culture by relentlessly performing on university campuses.

His Dave Brubeck Quartet also toured the world on behalf of the US government, becoming so popular in Europe and Asia that it was said that when Washington needed to fix up damage somewhere, they sent in Brubeck.

According to Brubeck's website, highlights of his career include the premier of his composition "Upon this Rock" for then Pope John Paul II's visit to San Francisco in 1987.

His accolades included: receiving the National Medal of Arts from then president Bill Clinton in 1994; a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences; and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

He held numerous honorary doctorates from universities in the US, Canada, Britain and Germany.

Over the course of his career he also experimented with integrating jazz into classical forms.

Raw skill

Born on December 6, 1920 in Concord, California, Brubeck at age four was improvising tunes from the classical pieces he was taught by his piano teacher mother.

He dreamed, though, of being a rancher like his father, and went to university to become a veterinarian, only to transfer to the music department when a teacher noticed he spent all class staring out the window at the conservatory.

His raw skill at the keyboard concealed the fact he had not yet learnt to read music, and he was allowed to graduate in 1942 only after promising never to become a music teacher.

After World War II, Brubeck studied with French classical composer Darius Milhaud, who told him jazz was the best music for expressing the spirit of the US.

'Take Five'

He began his career in earnest in 1947, playing in San Francisco for the first time with Paul Desmond, whose delicate lyricism on alto sax would later help make the Brubeck quartet famous.

After nearly becoming paralyzed in a 1951 swimming accident, Brubeck assembled his first quartet with Desmond and built up a new and young audience by relentlessly touring universities at the suggestion of his wife, Iola.

Brubeck kept up a broad interest in all forms of music.

He wrote a chorale for Pope John Paul II's 1987 public mass in San Francisco, and performed at the 1988 Moscow summit meeting of Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev.

"Take Five," written by Desmond, remains the quartet's best known piece. Brubeck's own compositions "In Your Own Sweet Way" and "The Duke" have become staples of the jazz repertoire.

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