Brubeck, Dave (originally David Warren)

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Brubeck, Dave (originally David Warren)

Brubeck, Dave (originally David Warren), American jazz pianist, bandleader, and composer; b. Concord, Calif., Dec. 6, 1920. Brubeck’s father, Howard Peter Brubeck, was a cattle rancher; his mother, Elizabeth Ivey Brubeck, was a piano teacher. Though he began taking piano lessons from his mother at the age of four and played in bands as a teenager, he entered the Coll. of the Pacific as a veterinary major, intending to follow his father into the cattle business. Nevertheless, he had become a music major by the time he graduated in 1942. After graduation he went into the army, where he led a service band. He married loia Marie Whitlock on Sept. 21, 1942. They had six children, of whom four (David Darius, Christopher, Daniel, and Matthew) became professional musicians and played with their father.

Upon his discharge from the service in 1946, Brubeck studied composition with Darius Milhaud at Mills Coll. for three years; he also studied piano with Fred Saatman in 1949. During this period he formed an octet that performed occasionally, though he more frequently appeared with the rhythm section of the group as the Dave Brubeck Trio. He made his first recordings in 1949 for the Coronet label, and in 1950 helped found Fantasy Records, for which he recordedexclusively until 1954 and occasionally thereafter.

The Dave Brubeck Trio broke up after Brubeck was injured in a swimming accident in 1950. When he recovered in 1951 he organized a quartet featuring Paul Desmond, alto sax. (real name Paul Emil Breitenfeld, b. 1924; d. 1977), Bob Bates, bs., and Joe Dodge, drm. The personnel of the rhythm section varied over the next several years; the definitive version of the group featured drummer Joe Morello, who joined in 1956, and bass player Eugene Wright, who joined in 1958. The quartet rose in prominence through its appearances, notably at colleges, to the point that it was signed by Columbia Records and released its first major- label album, the live recording Jazz Goes to College, in June 1954. On Oct. 8, 1954, Brubeck was featured on the cover of Time magazine, and by the end of that month the album was in the charts, where it reached the Top Ten. Follow-up albums Dave Brubeck at Storyville, Brubeck Time, and Jazz: Red, Hot and Cool all made the Top Ten in 1955.

The Dave Brubeck Quartet continued to release charting albums in the late 1950s while touring extensively in the U.S. and around the world. In October 1960 the group released Time Out, an album on which each song was performed in a different time signature, among them “Take Five” (music by Paul Desmond), which was in 5/4, and “Blue Rondo à la Turk” (music by Dave Brubeck), which was in 9/8. “Blue Rondo à la Turk” earned Brubeck a Grammy nomination for Best Jazz Composition, More Than 5 Minutes. In July 1961, Columbia released “Take Five” as a single; it reached the Top 40 by October, earning a Grammy nomination for Record of the Year, and Time Out vaulted into the Top Ten, going gold and remaining in the charts for more than three years. In November, Columbia released Time Further Out, which hit the Top Ten in February 1962. The chart single “Unsquare Dance” (music by Dave Brubeck) drawn from the album, earned Brubeck a Grammy nomination for Best Original Jazz Composition.

Brubeck made his sole screen appearance in the film All Night Long, released in the U.S. in February 1962. For the next several years he toured extensively while releasing two or three albums a year, several of which made the charts. Dave Brubeck at Carnegie Hall, a double live album recorded Feb. 21, 1963, earned a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Soloist or Small Group. Brubeck wrote music for the network television series Mr. Broadway, which ran from September to December 1964. “Theme from Mr. Broadway,” included on the album Jazz Impressions of New York, was nominated for a Grammy for Best Original Jazz Composition.

Brubeck’s record sales fell off after the mid-1960s. The quartet disbanded in December 1967, ostensibly so that Brubeck could devote himself more to the kind of jazz-based classical compositions he had been writing since the early 1960s. But by May 1968 he was back on the road with a new group featuring baritone saxophonist Gerry Mulligan, bass player Jack Six, and drummer Alan Dawson. Their album Compadres earned a 1968 Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Small Group or Soloist with Small Group. They also performed and recorded backed by the Cincinnati Symphony Orch.

Brubeck parted ways with Columbia Records in 1971 and signed to Atlantic Records. For his fall 1972 tour of Europe, his group was joined by Paul Desmond, resulting in the 1973 album We’re All Together Again (For the First Time). Brubeck launched a new group in 1973, Two Generations of Brubeck, featuring his sons David Darius (electric kybd.), Christopher (bs. gtr.), and Daniel (drm.), along with such other performers as alto saxophonist Jerry Bergonzi.

Brubeck continued to tour and to release at least an album a year in the mid- 1970s. 1975: The Duets, released on Horizon Records, paired him once again with Paul Desmond and reached the pop charts. In March 1976 he reassembled the Dave Brubeck Quartet of 1958-67 for a concert tour to mark the 25th anniversary of the founding of the group. This resulted in the 1977 album 25th Anniversary Reunion; but Desmond’s death on May 30, 1977, put an end to the group.

Brubeck organized a new Dave Brubeck Quartet, initially featuring Jerry Bergonzi, Christopher Brubeck, and drummer Butch Miles, and began recording for the Concord Jazz label, switching to MusicMasters in 1987 and to Telare in 1993. He wrote the score for the 1984 film Ordeal by Innocence. Health problems forced him to cut back on his performing schedule somewhat in the 1990s, but he continued to work regularly. In September 1997 his quartet, featuring alto saxophonist and flautist Bobby Militello, bass player Jack Six, and drummer Randy Jones, recorded So What’s New?, an album of new compositions released by Telare in April 1998.

Following the demise of the Swing Era and the limited appeal of bebop, the Dave Brubeck Quartet achieved widespread popular success with its small-group “cool” jazz in the second half of the 1950s and the first half of the 1960s. Brubeck’s classically informed musical experimentation, notably performing pieces in unusual time signatures, was offset by the lyricism of the quartet’s alto saxophonist, Paul Desmond, resulting in a remarkable 21 pop-chart albums between 1954 and 1976, among them the gold-selling Time Out, which featured the Top 40 hit “Take Five.”


Jazz at Oberlin (1953); Jazz Goes to College (1954); Jazz at the College of the Pacific (1954); D. B./Paul Desmond (with Paul Desmond; 1954); Brubeck Time (1955); Brubeck Plays Brubeck (1956); Dave Digs Disney (1957); In Europe (1958); Newport 1958 (1959); Time Out (1960); Time Further Out (1961); Countdown Time in Outer Space (1962); D. B.’s Greatest Hits (1966); Adventures in Time (1972); Two Generations of Brubeck—Brother the Great Spirit Made Us All (1973); 1975: The Duets (with Paul Desmond; 1975); Time Signatures: A Career Retrospective (1992); A D. B. Christmas (1996); Love Songs (2000); One Alone (2000).


H. Brubeck, D. B.(1961); Biography of D. B. (1972); Use Storb and Klaus Fischer, D. B.: Improvisations and Compositions: The Idea of Cultural Exchange (N.Y.; 1994); Fred M. Hall, It’s about Time: The D. B. Story (Fayetteville, Ark., 1996).

—William Ruhlmann