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Dave Brubeck, one of the seminal figures in the history of American jazz and the man behind the quartet that forged the polyrhythmically artful 1959 album Time Out, has died. He was one day shy of his 92nd birthday.
The pianist and composer died Wednesday morning of heart failure after being stricken while on his way to a cardiology appointment in Norwalk, Conn., with his son Darius, his manager Russell Gloyd told the Associated Press.
Brubeck formed The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951 and on Nov. 8, 1954, he became the first modern jazz musician to be pictured on the cover of Time magazine. (Years later, he said he thought his idol Duke Ellington should have been first.)
The group’s trend-setting “Take Five,” buoyed by altoist Paul Desmond‘s ubiquitous riff, is among the most popular and widely recognizable songs in jazz history. It was a crossover pop hit, reaching No. 25 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1961 and No. 5 on its Adult Contemporary chart, and remains popular today. “Take Five” has been on Billboard’s Jazz Digital Songs tally for 147 weeks — all but four of the chart’s 151-week history — peaking at No. 11 in 2010 and at No. 40 this week. The song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 1996.
Columbia Records’ Time Out, which spawned “Take Five,” was the first million-selling jazz LP and ranks among the best-selling jazz albums of all time. It opens with “Blue Rondo a la Turk” in 9/8 time — nine beats to the measure instead of the customary two, three or four. The piano-and-saxophone tune blends jazz with Turkish folk rhythms, which Brubeck discovered while on a State Department tour of Europe and Asia. Time Out peaked at No. 2 and spent 164 weeks on the Billboard 200.
Time Out also was added to the Library of Congress’ National Recording Registry in 2005.
In addition to Brubeck and Desmond, the quartet featured Joe Morello on drums and Eugene Wright on bass. The band’s first album, Jazz at Oberlin, was recorded live at Oberlin College in Ohio in 1953. Brubeck disbanded the quartet in 1967.
“Throughout his six decade-long career, his unique time signatures and distinct rhythms were highlights of his innovative style,” Recording Academy president Neil Portnow said. “As one of the prime architects of the sophisticated West Coast jazz sound, Brubeck showed that jazz could be artistically challenging yet accessible to large audiences.”
Brubeck was born Dec. 6, 1920, in Concord, Calif., and took piano lessons from his mother Elizabeth, who had studied in England under Myra Hess.
After graduating from the College of the Pacific in 1942, Brubeck was drafted into the Army, where he met Desmond and created one of the armed forces’ first racially integrated bands, The Wolfpack. He returned to university after serving nearly four years, this time attending Mills College and studying under modernist French composer Darius Milhaud.
After completing his studies under Milhaud, Brubeck helped to establish Berkeley, Calif.-based Fantasy Records. He organized The Dave Brubeck Quartet in 1951, and they perfected their craft in smoky West Coast nightclubs and long tours of college campuses, where they became wildly popular.
The quartet’s other albums include 1961’s Time Further Out (his only other Top 10 on the Billboard 200), 1962’s Countdown: Time in Outer Space (dedicated to astronaut John Glenn), 1963’s Time Changes, 1966’s Time In and Anything Goes and 1968’s The Last Time We Saw Paris. The combo also dented the Hot 100 with “Unsquare Dance” (No. 74 in 1961) and “Bossa Nova U.S.A.” (No. 69 in 1963).
“Dave Brubeck was one of the greatest champions jazz ever had,” said Adam Block, president of Sony catalog label Legacy Recordings, “but his contributions to music transcend any genre. He loved the music he played, and you can hear and feel that in every note.”
Brubeck also wrote music for operas, ballets and an episode of the TV special This Is America, Charlie Brown in the late ’80s. In 1988, he performed in Moscow for former President Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev at a dinner event hosted by the Soviet leader.
Brubeck was still touring at age 88 in 2009, when he also received the Kennedy Center Honor, and he played a date at the Blue Note in New York City in November 2010. He received the Grammy’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1996.
His career recently was celebrated in Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way (2010), a documentary executive produced by renowned jazz fan Clint Eastwood, who also chairs the Honorary Board of the Brubeck Institute at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif.
Survivors include his wife Iola, daughter Catherine, sons Chris, Dan, Matthew and Darius and 10 grandchildren. Another son, Michael, died a few years ago.
Watch a clip from Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way below.
Erik Pedersen contributed to this report.
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